There’s something particular about Casey McQuiston’s writing that I can’t quite describe. It’s the way that settings and characters are described, the way their dialogue flows so naturally, the way love is so simple yet so huge in every one of their stories. It wrings out my brain like a sponge. It renders me helpless, lying down on the floor, staring at the ceiling, wondering how a story can affect me so deeply when it describes none of my life experiences.
All that is to say: I read “I Kissed Shara Wheeler.”
Shara is not the protagonist of this book; that title would belong to Chloe Green, the most competitive, type-A, annoying high school senior you will ever meet. Chloe is determined to become the valedictorian of her evangelical Christian private school, and the only thing standing in her way is Shara Wheeler: prom queen, principal’s daughter, the most popular girl in school.
Except Shara has just disappeared, leaving three people left to search for her: Smith (her quarterback boyfriend), Rory (the bad boy next door) and Chloe. The only thing the three of them have in common? Shara kissed them just before she left. And as they dig through cryptic clues that Shara has left behind on monogrammed pink stationery, they start to realize a lot of things about themselves.
As is typical — even expected — of a McQuiston novel, queerness is imbued in the pages of this story. This might be their queerest book yet, and that’s saying something; I can’t think of a single cisgender, heterosexual character with more than a few lines in “One Last Stop.”
But this is on a very different scale from their previous books. The stakes are not international political scrutiny and an impending election, nor are they the uncertainty of literal time travel. This time, we’re brought to a town in central Alabama where bigotry runs through like a current, and the bisexual daughter of two moms from Los Angeles tries to succeed in the only ways she can.
Chloe is infuriating. She is one of the most annoying protagonists in any YA book I have ever read. She’s obsessed with her grades, with getting out of Alabama, with beating Shara in every single competition the two of them have created for themselves. She’s, like, really mean, and her tunnel vision means she does not always treat her friends with the care they deserve.
I absolutely love her.
But the supporting cast of this book is what makes it shine, which I think is true about every one of McQuiston’s novels. Each character truly has something to learn, some way to grow, some big story happening to them, and it’s all intertwined in ways you wouldn’t expect. (A lot of it is very gay.)
Smith and Rory are incredibly endearing, and most of my favorite scenes involved one or both of them. Chloe’s all-queer friend group is wildly entertaining, especially her best friend Georgia, who I can only describe as a cottagecore lesbian. Chloe’s moms are hilarious and loving and everything a YA main character’s parents should be.
And then there’s the titular Shara. I can’t say much about her without telling you exactly everything that happens in this book, but she’s awful, and I love her.
“I Kissed Shara Wheeler” comes out on May 3, 2022. I received an early copy from Libro.fm, an audiobook subscription website that gives influencers access to free audiobooks in exchange for a review. (I would be remiss not to mention that Natalie Naudus, who also narrated “One Last Stop,” was a terrific narrator as usual.)