Throughout their romantic correspondence, excerpts from LGBTQ+ romances of the past play an integral role in helping Henry and Alex understand their place in history and their emotions for each other. As two prominent sons of political leaders, the question of how history will regard them is paramount for both Henry and Alex. Because of their sexuality, they aren’t able to understand themselves through the lens of traditional history, which is often the story of the triumphs of straight, white men. By drawing on the letters of LGBTQ+ thinkers, writers, musicians, artists, and politicians, Alex and Henry expand their understanding of history and put a spotlight on the people and experiences that have been erased by traditional history. In doing so, they reimagine the past and find hope for a future that will include them in the history books, too.
The novel is filled with references to Jane Austen, and Alex and Henry’s love affair plays with Austenian romantic tropes re-envisioned through a LGBTQ+ lens. Jane Austen is Henry’s favorite author, a fact he has to hide from the press because his family doesn’t think it’s straight or manly enough. Austen is also beloved by June, who tells Alex it’s “so Jane Austen” of him to fly to London to win Henry back. The beginning of the novel follows the enemy-to-lovers trope that was enshrined in the public imagination by Pride and Prejudice. Like Elizabeth Bennett, Alex hates Henry, and the two have an antagonistic relationship filled with misunderstanding and judgement. Like Mr. Darcy, Henry falls for Alex early on and tolerates Alex’s antagonism because he is in love with him, a fact he struggles with. Like Elizabeth Bennett, Alex learns that his initial impressions of his love interest were wrong and is consistently surprised by Henry’s generosity and goodness. Their romance also has elements of the star-crossed-lovers trope that Austen favored in novels like Sense and Sensibility, in which a well-suited couple is driven apart by their families’ circumstances. Austen was concerned primarily with the impact of socioeconomic prejudice on love to gently call given hierarchies into question. In using Austen’s blueprint but queering it for a modern audience, McQuiston spotlights societal prejudice and imagines a more inclusive world.
Star Wars shows up early in Henry and Alex’s romance, and Princess Leia and Han Solo are foils that help Alex and Henry understand themselves and each other. The first friendly conversation that Alex and Henry have is about Star Wars. In it, Henry defends his favorite film in the series because he believes in the happy ending, and Alex defends his favorite because Leia and Han kiss in it. Both of these positions foreshadow their own romance and the happy ending that they earn in the novel. Alex and Henry come to see themselves as Han and Princess Leia respectively, which lends insight into each of their personalities. Like Han Solo, Alex is rebellious, driven, and sarcastic, and like Princess Leia, Henry is royal and duty-bound, upending stereotypes about his gender and what it means to be an aristocrat. The parallel with Star Wars also emphasizes the heroic nature of their romance and their ability to fight back against the traditions of empires. This is reflected in the mural of the two of them as their Star Wars counterparts at the end of the novel, around which a movement of support and acceptance arises.