I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston – Review

From the New York Times bestselling author of One Last Stopand Red, White & Royal Blue comes a debut YA romantic comedy about chasing down what you want, only to find what you need…

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Thank you so much to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Casey McQuiston’s newest triumph. I have been an avid fan of hers since ‘Red, White and Royal Blue’ came out— and with each release, I love her work more and more. I Kissed Shara Wheeler hit me where I live in the most beautiful of ways. As a queer woman from the middle of nowhere in Alabama, I felt as though this story was written for me. Chloe’s experience and my own differ in so many ways, but our hearts are the same. It was from the very first page that I was bound to the narrative, and that bond only strengthened as I made my way to its end.

Chloe Green has her life uprooted when her two mothers (Mom and Mama, as she calls them) move back to her mama’s hometown of False Beach, Alabama. Her mama was the talk of the town as a budding high school lesbian, and Chloe— already having discovered that she’s bisexual— enters into the same Bible-based school system. She finds a group of friends who support her, and she is wholly and unabashedly herself, much to the chagrin of the principal. While Chloe is unbothered by him, she is suddenly enraptured by his daughter— Shara Wheeler. This seemingly perfect girl corners Chloe and kisses her… right before she goes missing. We follow Chloe, Shara’s boyfriend, and the boyfriend’s ex-best friend as they attempt to decipher notes that Shara has left behind to lead them toward her final destination. This opens up all three of them to new experiences and unexpected relationships.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler explores sexuality, high school trauma, and the pros and cons of living in a small Southern town. Near the end of the novel, Casey writes, “But she also knows Alabama is more than Willowgrove. And if that’s true, maybe faith can mean more than Willowgrove, too”. I find this to be one of the most important lessons within these pages. People are so quick to write off the South because they think they are all close-minded conservatives. In the same vein, other people are ready to treat all persons of faith as though they are one of the few who use the written word of their god as an excuse to hate others. Humanity, such as the characters in this novel, is varied and more than you can see at a glance. I want to use Chloe’s tale to be kinder, to judge less. Because as Casey says in her Author’s Note, “There’s room for the good parts and the bad, the funny and painful and everything in between”. We contain multitudes, and Casey highlights this beautifully.

5/5 stars

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