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

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston – Review

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him. 

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

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This book has to be the greatest romance ever written. Largely that is a matter of opinion, but it touched my heart in such a way that I will never forget it. It had some of my favorite story telling devices: emails laden with excerpts from letters between lovers in history, podcasts with their eyes trained on the White House, and text messages that help us feel closer to these rich, diverse characters. We had enemies-to-lovers, fake bro-mance to real romance, and a tale about finding your Prince Charming that knocked me off my feet more than any Disney movie ever could.

We find ourselves in an alternate future where 2016 ended the way I had hoped it would. The results were called on my birthday that year, and it’s the worst one I’ve ever had. Just the world that Casey built for us made my heart ache and let me escape this Hollywood nightmare that we find ourselves in. If I could pull a page from Blue’s Clues’ Steve and Blue Skadoo into a novel; this one would be it. They got their Madam President, and she was not only a divorcee but also mother to two Mexican-American children. Those are two things that could be so polarizing to certain groups in our country, and she is nothing if not stronger for it. The country loves the First Family, and the nation is one that can be trusted and loved again.

However, the next election is drawing near, and emotions are at an all time high. This is where we find Alex, who is campaigning for his mother’s reelection. Due to an accident at a royal event, Alex is forced to spend time with Henry; the Prince of England. Throughout this unwanted set up, the two fall in love and are now faced with the consequences of their shared feelings. I really don’t want to spoil the book, so I won’t get into much detail. However, their love and escalation towards it took my breath away. What may have stolen my heart even more though was the reactions of their loved ones.

We have come a long way since the beginning of humanity, and though we still have a long way to go, I’m so proud of where we are. Casey’s work reflects this in that there is an outpouring of support from friends, families, and outsiders alike. Of course, there is always opposition, and maybe there always will be. In spite of this, love is universal, love is undeniable, and love always finds a way. I include all love in this, not just romantic love. Once these characters know that this connection between Alex and Henry is real, they stop at nothing to find a way to bring them together; which is an Herculean feat. There are appearances to keep up on both sides of this coin: Henry being the spare to the throne and Alex being the FSOTUS. I was relieved to know they fought their way out of the woods and won against all odds.

Casey says in her acknowledgements that she hopes that when you’ve finished the book that she leaves you with the spark and joy that you need. I think she does that and more. It’s not just a story about loving who you love and being honest with yourself, even though that is a remarkably brave and wonderful thing. It’s also a battle cry to never give up. It’s a rallying cry to vote; to make your voice heard. We can change the world and make it like this one. We can have our female president, we can lift up our LGBTQ+ community, and we can stand with our POC and make sure their voices are heard and they are given the respect and power they deserve.

If any of you are looking for a kick in the pants to bring you out of the funk that has surround the US since 2016, please pick up this book. I feel refreshed and recharged, and I’m ready to fucking fight. My heart has had a weight lifted, and I owe it all to Alex, Henry, and Casey.

5/5 stars