I Kissed Shara Wheeler defied the slippery slope of high expectations


Righter of Words

I Kissed Shara Wheeler, by Casey McQuiston, weaves a stunning story of struggle and growth in high school

With this year’s birthday money, I decided to buy the thing that brings me the most joy in life: books. I didn’t simply go to Barnes & Noble and purchase books off the shelves though; instead, I decided to spend my money by pre-ordering my six most-anticipated releases for 2022. Although the wait has been—and still is—excruciating, the delayed gratification of receiving a book that I have been excited about for months is unmatched.

Nearly all of the books I ordered were sequels to books I had already read and adored. One, however, was not: I Kissed Shara Wheeler. Although the title may seem off-putting or at the very least a bit clunky and cliché, that was the only questionable aspect of the book.

Shara Wheeler is the second book by author Casey McQuiston that I have read. The first was Red, White, and Royal Blue, which is my go-to answer when someone dares to ask the notorious question: “What’s your favorite book?” Therefore, there were some extremely high standards for Shara Wheeler to live up to. These standards create a slippery slope, and although this book may not have been quite as exceptional as Red, White, and Royal Blue, it was a superb addition to McQuiston’s oeuvre.

Shara Wheeler starts off as a typical runaway prom queen story. The princess of a small bible-belt town vanishes one month before her graduation, throwing the town and her school into chaos. As the narrative delves deeper into the circumstances of Shara’s disappearance, however, it is discovered that before Shara disappeared, she kissed three people and left them each with only a note. The story follows these three, along with a widening cast of characters as they investigate Shara’s disappearance while also navigating issues of identity, belonging, and the trainwreck that is high school.

The primary reason that this book was so splendid was the characters. McQuiston’s prowess at creating diverse, interesting personas was showcased throughout this book. Each character was unique but oh so relatable, expressing their emotions, thoughts, and concerns so realistically that it was often difficult to read as I saw myself so clearly in these creations of fiction.

Each character was unique but oh so relatable, expressing their emotions, thoughts, and concerns so realistically that it was often difficult to read as I saw myself so clearly in these creations of fiction.

From Chloe, the band nerd, to Rory, the classic moody bad boy, to Smith, the not-so-dumb jock, each character fits a stereotype at first glance but broke that very same stereotype pages later. Although this story and these characters may seem stereotypical of a high school romcom, they were elevated by McQuiston’s writing and surprising plot developments.

The family that these characters created for themselves was stunning. Although many of the characters in Shara Wheeler found themselves in an estranged—or at least strained—relationship with their blood relatives, the family that they found among their classmates and peers was incredible to watch. The support, love, and genuine care that passed between these people was heartwarming.

The diversity that this book exhibited was also incredible, though not surprising considering McQuiston’s other works. Diversity of both race and sexuality and the struggles that accompany each were discussed explicitly throughout this story. It dealt with themes such as the difficulty of coming out and feeling accepted and welcomed, especially in a primarily white, heterosexual, Christian town. It dealt with feeling restricted by family and their values, especially regarding sexuality. It also addressed racial prejudice and resulting stereotypes just as eloquently.

This book is extremely important in modern society. Written by a queer, nonbinary author and narrated by a bisexual main character, Shara Wheeler depicts the realistic struggles and growth of LGBTQIA+ teenagers in the package of a high school rom-com. It is vital to the understanding of society and its effects on all people, especially LGBTQIA+ teenagers.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler was an exquisite glimpse into the everyday lives and struggles of high schoolers with a pinch of mystery. It is a necessary read, but it is also an extremely enjoyable one, as it whisks the reader up into a whirlwind of friendship, romance, kisses, and all the best (or worst) that Willowgrove Christian Academy has to offer.