My original, and extremely enthusiastic review of this book, can be found here.
This was my first re-read (of what I’m sure will be many) and this time, I chose to listen to the audio book. When I first listened to the sample available on Audible, I was honestly not sure if I liked Ramon de Ocampo’s narration, but after seeing the audio book of this highlighted on a bunch of best of the year lists, I decided to give him a chance. Of course, the samples never really turn out to be representative, as I always listen to the books in 1.5 speed (it takes far too long to get through the books otherwise). The long and short of it is, I needn’t have worried, he turned out to be a great narrator. If I wanted to be super picky, I could note that some of his British accents were a bit less consistent and could have been better in places (note that I’m married to an Englishman and lived in the UK for six years, so I possibly have higher standards than some for this).
Re-reading this book just brought home once again that I was entirely correct to choose this as my top book of 2019. It’s funny, touching, emotional, deeply romantic, very sexy. I didn’t know that much about the author when I first read the book, and having since read more about her, it’s great to see how pleased and surprised she is about the staggering success of her debut novel. The (frankly hilarious) chapter where Alex is coming to terms with his bisexuality and in the end realises that “straight people usually don’t spend this much time telling themselves they’re straight” is in part based on her own realisations in her early twenties that she was queer and she’s had a lot of very positive responses from readers about it too, which just proves that the book reads true to a lot of people. I love that part of what she wanted with the book was to subvert the image of the perfect Prince Charming, and created Henry, who uses his looks and charm to hide to the world how conflicted, gay, rebellious and prone to depression he is.
Of the two protagonists, I love Henry the most. I just want to wrap him up in a warm hug and tell him everything is going to be ok, and he needs to stay brave, because everything WILL work out in the end. Alex is a bit much and can absolutely get a bit exasperating at times, but the two guys are just so perfect together and the semi-epistolary sections towards the second half of the book, when they communicate through text messages and poetic e-mails to one another make me swoon.
I mentioned in my original review that pretty much every single supporting character is solid gold as well. I would quite happily read whole novels about Alex’ sister June, their best friend Nora, Henry’s sister Bea or his best friend Pez, as well. I would happily read a book about President Ellen Claremont and how she met her husband, or the romance between Henry’s parents, the princess with a doctorate and the actor who played James Bond. Even tertiary characters like the White House Chief of Staff, Alex’ bodyguards or Henry’s equerry are fully fleshed out and interesting to me. That barely ever happens in a novel and I both love and slightly hate McQuiston for giving me this perfect cast of characters and then never letting me find out what happens to all of them after Alex and Henry find their happy ending at the end of the book.
This book ended up not just on my (and tons of other) best of the year list, but won both the “Best Debut novel” and “Best Romance” at the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards. It’s an utter delight and very good escapist literature during these dark days of ours. I cannot recommend it warmly enough.
Crossposted on my blog.