I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In I Kissed Shara Wheeler, the first young adult novel by Casey McQuiston, Chloe Green has been determined to be valedictorian for four years. Her only significant competition is Shara Wheeler, a girl everyone except Chloe adores. Then, Shara kisses Chloe and then disappears into thin air, on prom night. But Chloe doesn’t want to get the valedictorian title by default; she wants to earn it, and to do so, she needs Shara to be here. So she sets out to find her, growing more determined when she discovers that Shara has left behind a note… or notes? Chloe soon meets up with Smith and Rory, Shara’s boyfriend and neighbor respectively. They decide to work together to find the runaway girl, even though the only thing they have in common is that they have all kissed Shara Wheeler.
I’m always so excited to read a McQuiston novel, and this one was a lot of fun! It’s not my favorite (that of course is Red, White & Royal Blue), but it is still worth reading.
The entire premise of this is a little ridiculous, but it’s executed in a fairly fun way. There is a decent amount of mystery and an almost heist-like scene, which makes the odd runaway-leaves-cryptic-notes-for-her-love-interests premise work. And though Shara is out of sight for probably at least half the book, you feel like you still sort of know her—or at least, know how Chloe sees her.
As for Chloe, I liked her well enough, though not as much as some protagonists. But many of her actions are frustrating, and some of the time I don’t like how her obsession (for lack of a better term) with Shara made her behave. For a while, her choices almost turned me off the relationship entirely. Coupled with this, I wasn’t impressed with Shara. She comes off as manipulative and self-centered for most of the book. She’s called out on this, though, and does have some decent character development. I just think it came too late in the game for me to like her. I don’t know, maybe I’m jaded? She wasn’t terrible, and she’s certainly interesting, but I think she should have been fleshed out more.
On the other hand, the other characters are amazing! This is strange, but for the first time while reading a McQuiston novel, I was rooting for the side characters to get together more than I cared about the main relationship. But can you blame me? Smith and Rory, as well as Georgia and Summer, are so cute! I loved getting to know them, and seeing their own journeys. Especially Smith, who is easily my absolute favorite of the book. I’ve added him to my list of fictional characters I would adopt if I needed to.
Where this book really shines, for me, is (ironically, considering the title) when the story isn’t about Shara. The explorations of growing up, discovering your sexuality or gender identity, and struggling with the restrictive environment of an intolerant school are all brilliantly presented. There’s a lot in here that features a conservative Christian school environment, and how damaging that can be to a lot of people, not only LGBT+ people, but McQuiston clearly addresses how faith itself is not harmful, only that sometimes the way it’s taught can be. It’s a nuanced theme, and so well done. I loved it.
In the end, I found I Kissed Shara Wheeler to be a good book. The pacing is excellent, the characters are adequate (except for Shara but especially the side characters), and the messages powerful without being preachy. I wasn’t enamored with the main romantic relationship, though, and so the happy ending (uh, spoilers, I guess?) wasn’t as impactful as it could have been.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler will be published in May 2022!