Chapter Eight 

Alex and Henry exchange increasingly passionate and seductive emails. Their emails often include references to literature, such as Jane Austen, or historical events, such as the acts of kings and presidents. They both express how much they miss each other, and Henry quotes Sense and Sensibility. Alex remembers that he was educated on private email servers a few years back but notes that the details are kind of fuzzy to him. Henry and Alex are also in a group text with Nora and June, and they all enjoy teasing each other. Henry’s emails and text messages are a great comfort to Alex as the campaign picks up steam. The Richards campaign is playing dirty, and his campaign messages are laced with racist ideas about Claremont’s Mexican family. Now that it has come down to Richards vs. Claremont, there’s a lot of speculation about who Richards’s running mate will be. Alex gets into a disagreement with Hunter, the intern, over voter engagement of disenfranchised people, and Alex is infuriated by Hunter’s presumptions and white privilege. He looks up test dates for the LSATs. 

Henry invites Alex to Wimbledon, where Alex sits with Henry’s family and encounters Prince Philip and his wife for the first time since their wedding and Cakegate. Philip makes some rude comments about Pez that have homophobic and racist undertones. Philip also talks about how Henry should be running in better circles so he can find a wife. Henry leaves, and Alex finds him by the clubhouse, angry and frustrated. Henry is in the mood to rebel, so they have sex in the clubhouse, which is risky, just to spite Henry’s homophobic family. They leave the tennis match and go back to Henry’s rooms in the palace, where Henry plays the piano for Alex. As Henry plays “Your Song” by Elton John, who is an icon for Henry, Alex feels the unmistakable stirrings of love for Henry. He both acknowledges and denies to himself that he’s falling in love.   

At the Democratic National Convention, Alex and the rest of the Claremont campaign find out that Richards’s running mate is none other than Raphael Luna. Alex and his family feel deeply betrayed by this, and Alex and June struggle to maintain public appearances as they grapple with the news. Henry, knowing how much this news will impact Alex, surprises him at his hotel. Alex describes all he’s feeling about Luna to Henry and how disillusioned he is by the betrayal, given that Luna was a big part of Alex’s inspiration for going into politics in the first place. Henry listens and comforts Alex. They sleep together and oversleep. They wake up to Zahra banging on the door of the hotel room. She barges in and discovers Henry literally hiding in the closet. She’s furious but agrees to refrain from telling Alex’s mom until after the convention. She demands that Henry go back to England. She warns them that this is a sex scandal that no one in the campaign wants to deal with getting out.


The novels of Jane Austen are a motif throughout the book, and they emphasize how Alex and Henry’s romance both plays into classic romantic tropes and also upends them. Austen is mentioned and quoted throughout the novel as Henry’s favorite author, though Henry is forced to hide his love for Austen in official royal press statements because a prince loving Austen is seen as too gay. Alex and Henry’s romance follows a few romantic tropes that have been popularized by Jane Austen, including the enemies-to-lovers trope of Pride and Prejudice and the star-crossed-lovers trope of Sense and Sensibility. But McQuiston upends these heterosexual romance tropes by imagining them through a distinctly queer lens. At the beginning of their relationship, Alex’s prejudice against Henry reflects his own repressed sexual identity. He recognizes that he feels something strongly for Henry from the first moment he sees him, but he can only understand that intense feeling as dislike because he can’t see his own bisexuality. As they fall in love, Alex and Henry aren’t driven apart so much by different family circumstances, as is traditional in Austen, but by fear of nationwide homophobia in both of their countries. While Austen is concerned with the intersection of socioeconomics and love and McQuiston is interested in public bias and queer love, both authors focus on the impact of societal prejudice on romantic life.   

Throughout the novel, comedy allows characters to access revelations about deep, often difficult truths. Just before Zahra enters Alex’s hotel room, Alex forces Henry into the closet in an attempt to hide their relationship. Alex briefly jokes about the irony that he’s putting Henry in a literal closet in order to keep their relationship closeted. This joke allows Henry and Alex to acknowledge the precariousness of their situation in which being closeted feels like a necessity but to keep moving through their emergency. When Henry literally comes out of the closet, Alex feels the humor of the situation briefly, calling it a “solid visual pun.” Humor continues to create a bridge for Alex and Zahra to navigate the gravity of the situation, such as when Alex jokes that he has gotten into international relations and when Zahra calls their relationship a “quarter-life NATO sexual crisis.” These jokes in the midst of what is very serious, personally for Alex and globally for the president’s reelection campaign, help Zahra and Alex to maintain a level of connection and trust. 

Throughout this chapter, letting go of old ideas and values helps Alex start to gain a better understanding of the person he is becoming. In the argument with WASPy Hunter, he experiences frustration and impatience with Hunter’s outdated ideas about what’s possible in politics. The fact that he’s called “WASPy” Hunter emphasizes that his ideas are a part of a white establishment's way of thinking. Though Hunter is young, he parrots a familiar, tired white party line about who counts in politics and who doesn’t. His by-the-bootstraps argument that disenfranchised people in red states should just help themselves out infuriates Alex and represents the kind of stagnant thinking that he’s been increasingly allergic to. As his mentor Luna betrays him, Alex also questions who he is and what he values. Feeling like he’s lost an idol, Alex may not know who he is, but he knows what he values. These moments are important steps in Alex's understanding who he wants to be outside of standard narratives and childhood role models.