Casey McQuiston’s debut young adult novel I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a book you are going to want on your romance TBR list for this summer!
After Chloe Green’s moms moved her from California to Alabama for high school, she spent four years ignoring classmate gossip and pushing back against her Christian school’s archaic administration. But there is one thing that is keeping her going, and that is winning valedictorian of her class. However, there is only one person that truly threatens this charge: Shara Wheeler, the principal’s beloved progeny and their school’s ultimate perfect girl.
So when Shara unexpectedly kisses Chloe and disappears one month before graduation, Chloe’s world is turned upside down.
Fueled by a furious desire for answers, and also to bring back Shara so that Chloe can beat her fair and square in the race to become valedictorian, Chloe is joined by two others that Shara has kissed–Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor, and Smith, Shara’s jock boyfriend–in a quest to find Shara. Along the way, she uncovers truths about her town, and about Shara, that she never realized before.
One of McQuiston’s greatest strengths is their characters
Casey McQuiston had only published new adult queer narratives prior to this book, but regardless of genre and this being their first foray into young adult fiction, I thought they did an incredible job crafting a heartwarming and soft story with I Kissed Shara Wheeler.
One of McQuiston’s greatest strengths is their characters. From our sharp protagonist Chloe Green to our inquisitive jock Smith, McQuiston’s characters are the life within the pages. They did not feel flat or two-dimensional, and I found myself drawn to each of them as if they were real people.
There is so much wonderful representation in this book
There was also so much amazing representation in I Kissed Shara Wheeler. The primary example was, of course, Chloe and Shara. Their rivalry-turned-relationship was deliciously complex and made for some fantastic and genuine moments in the book. Shara’s journey in embracing the part of her that was shunted deep within herself due to her Christian upbringing was difficult, but extremely well done in terms of being a relatable experience.
The multiple layers surrounding Smith and Rory’s friendship – and eventual relationship – was endearing and made my chest erupt with warmth as their interactions increased in frequency. You come to find out that these two were childhood friends, and that social expectations of the high school they were in created a rift between them.
When Smith and Rory inevitably come together as a result of the obstacle course that Shara forces them through, you cheer for them just as much as you cheer for Shara and Chloe. Additionally, Smith’s character undergoes a journey of self-identity that was both thoughtful and careful, and it was incredibly fleshed out.
The friendship between Chloe, Smith, and Rory was a genuine highlight of the novel
I also believe that the friendships within the book deserve a lot of recognition. Chloe and Georgia have such a great friendship, but when Chloe’s mind is enraptured by the mystery surrounding Shara, you practically feel the pain and frustration emanating from Georgia as she struggles to get even one second of Chloe’s time.
Additionally, Chloe’s dynamic with Rory and Smith based on their shared kiss from Shara was wonderful; their traded quips and snark was everything that I needed from their friendship, and I found it interesting that there was no real bitterness surrounding Shara’s influence in getting them together like this.
Rather, these three worked together very well as a team, and their friendship was a genuine highlight of the book.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler is the perfect romance for this summer, as well as a wonderful coming-of-age book that every high school student struggling to figure themselves out should read.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston was released on May 3rd, 2022.