The State of Us is an adorable queer romance for our political moment

The State of Us by Shaun David Hutchinson. Image Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers
The State of Us by Shaun David Hutchinson. Image Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers /

Shaun David Hutchinson’s The State of Us is an adorable queer YA romance in its own right, but its setting – in the midst of a presidential campaign – is what truly sets it apart.

Look, we know. It’s 2020 and the world is on fire, both literally and figuratively. The last thing any of us want to do is read a book about politics. But even though that may be the case, you should still make some space in your TBR pile this month for Shaun David Hutchinson’s The State of Us.

An adorable YA romance set in the middle of a presidential campaign, it asks the question: What if the sons of the two main candidates happened to meet and fall in love?

On the surface, Andre “Dre” Rosario and Dean Arnault have basically nothing in common, other than the fact that their parents are both running to be the leader of the free world.

Dre is Mexican-American, a Democrat, gay and out. He’s the star of a successful YouTube series known as “Dreadful Dressup”, regularly attends comic conventions and still has a lot of reservations about the fact that his dad’s in the race at all, no matter how outspoken he might be about immigrant rights. (He’s not very confident he’ll win, either.) Dean, on the other hand, is white, on the asexual spectrum – though he hasn’t quite figured out where yet – and strongly supports his Republican mother’s candidacy despite the fact that she wants to ban trans soldiers from the military.

Opposites attract, right?

Despite the many things that could divide them, Dean and Dre grow closer, bonding over the singular experience they share and turning that bond into a real romantic connection. Hutchison doesn’t shy away from having the two face difficult conversations – Dean’s nervousness over whether his conservative mother will accept him for who he is, even as he’s still figuring out what that means, for example. Or Dre’s reticence to use his public platform to stake more definitive political stances.

In short: Their connection is both obvious and real, but The State of Us is forthright about acknowledging how challenging it can be for two people with such different belief systems to be together, even when they care about one another. And that situation is so clearly even harder for teens like Dre and Dean, who are still in the process of figuring out who they are and what they believe.

(One of the best things about both characters, in fact, is that they’re so willing to listen to one another, and to shift their viewpoints in light of new information and perspectives they hadn’t considered before.)

To be fair, the story becomes a bit ridiculous when an outrageously sleazy businessman who’s running a third-party campaign tries to use their relationship against both their parents. The character is so ridiculously Trumpian in his presentation that it’s difficult to take him seriously, which honestly probably shouldn’t be the case given everything we’ve seen happen over the past three and a half years.

McMann’s over the top status does feel out of place in a story that’s so firmly grounded in the realities of what’s happening between Dre and Dean, as they flirt, comfort and question one another as the story requires. They’re supercute, is what I’m saying, and an easy pairing to root for, despite – and maybe in some ways because of – their differences. Though there are many things that they perhaps don’t agree on and experiences they haven’t shared, they’re a great example of how those facts can still bring people together rather than push them apart.

And, for a novel that’s about a presidential election in which their by necessity has to be a winner and a loser – no matter how appealing the idea of Dre and Dean sharing the White House might be – the ending is really deft and well-handled.

The State of Us is a sweet, fast-paced read that will make you almost believe in politics as the art of the possible once more. And you can’t ask for a lot more than that.

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The State of Us is available now. Have you read it yet? Share your thoughts in the comments.