I Kissed Shara Wheeler, by Casey McQuiston

Having read and greatly enjoyed Casey McQuiston’s previous books, Red White & Royal Blue and One Last Stop, I naturally was drawn to her newest, I Kissed Shara Wheeler. This one is geared at a somewhat younger audience — the characters are in high school rather than in their early 20s — and does not contain the explicit sex scenes of the other two. There is a same sex romance (more than one, actually) which is definitely in McQuiston’s wheelhouse, and a character who mysteriously disappears just before high school graduation, leaving her friends and enemies to puzzle out what happens to her.

I’ve seen Shara Wheeler’s disappearance compared to the novel Gone Girl, but I’d suggest the much closer parallel is John Green’s Paper Towns, in which a mysterious and beautiful girl leaves town right before high school graduation, after an unexpectedly intimate evening with the boy who’s had a crush on her for years, and the boy and his friends follow a trail of cryptic clues to find her. In this novel, Shara Wheeler is the beautiful and perfect golden girl in a small-town Christian school, and outsider Chloe Green, the novel’s main character who’s competing with Shara for class valedictorian, has wavered between hating Shara and being obsessed with her for all of high school. McQuiston’s not unaware of the Paper Towns parallels; Chloe specifically references the whole set-up being “like a John Green novel” at one point.

The message of Paper Towns is: Boys, don’t turn a beautiful young woman into your Manic Pixie Dream Girl: she is a real person with her own thoughts, feelings, and problems, and doesn’t exist to serve your story. The message of I Kissed Shara Wheeler is, perhaps, also that the beautiful girl is more complex than you think she is — but so is everyone else. In a world that rigidly enforces being straight, cisgender, Christian, and compliant, Chloe finds both within her safe circle of queer friends and in unexpected places outside of that circle, that almost everyone is more than she thinks they are. I found this a fun romp with some thoughtful insights underlying it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s