Let’s get it out of the way right now: yes, I bloody love Hamilton, and yes, I fully subscribe to the belief that Lin Manuel Miranda is a 21st Century Shakespeare. There, I said it.
Now let’s deal with this factoid: yes, I’m well aware that the musical is…err…slightly inaccurate. Beyond just the mere facts (indeed, Angelica Schuyler was married before she ever met Hamilton and it wasn’t likely she had a ‘thing’ for him), the musical’s main flaw is that it portrays the titular character a bit too sympathetically. Granted, it’s literally a show ABOUT Alexander Hamilton so of course they’re going to do that, but the show gracefully ignores the fact that Ms. Maria Reynolds’ wasn’t exactly A-Ham’s only ‘indiscretion.’ Yes, Hamilton was probably an outright cad who stuck L’il Ham into anything and everything.
At least the show didn’t outright ignore every flaw the man had. It did keep somewhat of a balance between the overly saccharine and the heartbreaking fact. But leave it to a YA writer to totally surrender to the fantasy that Alexander was Jesus incarnate and a Ye Olde 1700s Fabio and create a self-insert story that centers around his courtship with Eliza Schuyler, mixing it in with some lazy cliches that were likely ripped from a 1990’s teen romance playbook. That’s what Alex & Eliza by Melissa De La Cruz became.
Before I even review the book, look at the cover. Look familiar? Yeah, this was clearly written as a cash-in on the musical’s phenomenon. Guess what? It wasn’t the first to do that. Seriously, any more obvious and these books would’ve been titled “My Shot” or “Helpless.”
I’ve read both of these, and both read like Hamilton fan fiction, which is okay when it’s posted on Archive of Our Own, but as mainstream, stand-alone, published-and-distributed tomes, both fall flatter than Aaron Burr’s political career.
Don’t get me wrong, writing fanf iction isn’t bad at all. Dear gods, I was one of the biggest fanfic nerds in high school and college it’s embarrassing to admit. But a successful fan story not only gets the characters right, but they explore the characters even deeper than the original work, even if inaccurately. Neither of these books even give distinguishable traits to the dramatis personae to begin with. The Hamilton Affair was so damn forgettable that I’m focusing the rest of this review on Alex & Eliza, which was more recently published and more recently read. I’d better get this out before it totally fades from memory.
Alex & Eliza follows the courtship of the titular couple and ends on their wedding night, which is an odd place to stop, seeing as the bread and butter of their entire relationship came AFTER their wedding. De La Cruz’ reasoning for this choice was because the time period between Alex and Eliza’s meeting and marriage isn’t as well documented as the time after, mainly because A-Ham was away at war for much of it. De La Cruz felt this meant there were blank spaces to fill in, which gave her some liberty to work with the narrative. Problem is, that narrative was a highly unlikely, predictable soap opera.
Most of the story takes place from Eliza’s POV away from Albany during the winter of 1770, when she supposedly when to her aunt’s home in New Jersey to aid the war effort. There, she comes across Hamilton, who is taken instantly, but she finds him off-putting until plot convenience changes her mind. They putt around for a bit until Eliza’s mother betroths her to a walking Gaston-esque cutout against her will. Of course, all ends well when A-Hem saves the day, Not Gaston is foiled, and Eliza’s mother blesses her union with Hamilton. End story, and all is perfect until the affair that nearly ruined his career and her life fifteen years later.
Yeah, that’s right. The book relies on an ‘engaged to someone else’ plot in the third act to bring the lovers together, which is incredibly unlikely to have happened, seeing as Eliza’s courtship was the ONLY one of her sisters’ to be blessed by their family. The author justifies this with the famous “poor man’s wife” quote from one of Hamilton’s letters.
Accuracy aside, this book was just…dumb. Mind-numbingly so. It relies so much on the usual fare it was literally the ‘hardtack and creek water’ Hamilton story. At times Eliza gets a good moment with Angelica and Peggy, but they even seem to flanderize the other Schuyler Sisters. Angelica’s a wit and Peggy’s a flirt. Um…work?
In addition, the long-winded passages about the mundane events in the story are almost Steinbeckian, and not in the good way. It’s basically akin to the infamous ant-crossing-the-road chapter from The Pearl. We get almost three chapters devoted to Alex and Eliza riding a horse on a cold winter’s night. Another full chapter is centered on Eliza settling in and being sick at her aunt’s home. Two chapters at least are about Eliza inoculating Washington’s troops. Long portions more are dedicated to dinner parties and fireside chats between Eliza and her sisters and aunt. By the time De La Cruz introduced Not Gaston to the plot, I was ready for them to just be done with all of it.
Honestly, the only good thing about Alex & Eliza is that it’s so easy for the reader to self-insert into Eliza’s place because she’s so blandly written, and as such, having vague fantasies about myself riding on horseback with Lin Manuel Miranda was the only major benefit the book offered. If that was the whole story’s intention, then De La Cruz succeeded.
If you feel compelled to pick it up for yourself, don’t let me stop you. I advise, however, it’s worth it to just find it at your library as opposed to shelling out $17.99 for some one-read-only romance. Also, don’t read it while listening to the musical soundtrack. It will depress you very much.