Change of plan. This book was going to be part of my ‘Is It Worth the Hype’ series, where I read and review popular books so you don’t have to. Find it here. But…where is the hype for IKSW? I haven’t seen nearly enough noise for Casey McQuiston’s latest novel – this is not a book that deserves to fade into the background. Here’s why.
Name: I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author: Casey McQuiston
Published: May 2022
Chloe Green has spent the past four years dodging gossipy, classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect daughter.
But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.
On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbour with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.
Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe – probably not, but maybe – more to Shara, too.
I Kissed Shara Wheeler should have more hype because:
1) The author is a genius
I’ve been a Casey McQuiston fan for years. If you’re not a fan of their work, their first novel was Red, White and Royal Blue which was immortalized on Booktok in 2020. Don’t get me wrong, it’s such a fun romance but my personal favourite is their second adult romance, One Last Stop. It’s the type of book that made my year – find out why in my review here.
However, both novels are an absolute joy; queer romances that make you feel so loved and warm you’ll turn the final page beaming. At first, I wasn’t sure if McQuiston’s complexly funny, metaphorical writing style would translate well to a gossipy, YA novel. But some of the pages read like pure poetry. And while the style doesn’t make IKSW a light hearted read, (you have to pay attention!) it works. You can tell how writing adult novels first influenced them to create such complex and incredible YA characters. But more on that later.
2) This book will change lives
No, I’m not just saying that. Have you ever read Paper Towns by John Green? I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a bit like a gay Paper Towns: a lover letter to high school theatre. To growing up queer in small towns. To teenage friendships.
Genuinely, I believe this book will influence and help and change so many people’s lives, especially LGBT+ teenagers living in more conservative areas. It’s more than just a book; the ideas within could help young people navigate really tricky topics. So, we need to make as much noise and hype as possible about this awesome book, so it reaches as many people as possible.
“There are things that don’t make sense about me. I don’t know if I belong here. How can that be possible, to feel estranged from a place where everyone loves you? To owe your life to a place and still want to run? I’ve been trying and trying to figure out what it is about me that makes me feel this way and why it feels so deep and so big that it must be most of me, the skin stretching between my knuckles and across my shoulders and then the bones under them too.” – I KISSED SARA WHEELER
THAT’S SO BEAUTIFUL, RIGHT?
3) It’s a very sexy hardback
If you’re not yet convinced by the plot, let me show you the cover! If you’re the sort of person who scours for the most aesthetic books, look no further. It’s truly beautifully, inside and out. The chapters are interspersed with scorched documents from a mysterious ‘burn pile’ – they don’t add much but they’re funny.
Just saying, I love how McQuiston’s book designs are becoming more elaborate as they gain all the popularity they deserve – this gorgeous hardback feels a long way from my floppy Red, White and Royal Blue paperback.
4) Most importantly: the characters! (You will cry. It’s non-conditional).
In I Kissed Shara Wheeler, stereotyping is banned. Breaking out of how American high school characters are usually written, the characters fit no boxes (Karen MacManus, take notes). Each one is so complex and interesting and utterly gorgeous – because they’re written with faults.
None of them are perfect! And I love it! At times, Chloe gets pretty irritating (communicate with your friends girl) and Rory makes some painful mistakes. Smith has grown to become one of my favourite characters ever but he still isn’t faultless. Everyone’s flawed, which only emphasises how it’s high school. Everyone makes mistakes.
None of the characters are morally black and white either. You get impressive depth within each character for such a large cast. At points, the characters are almost so metaphorical or complicated that I didn’t really understand them, especially Shara. Some readers might not enjoy how unrealistic Shara was, how incomprehensible her actions were but I quite liked her. If you’ve read it, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!
“There was this one weekend, a million summers ago, when I sat on the shore drinking a frozen limeade, and I realized the only thing I wanted to look at was the way the sun hit the girls swimming in the lake.
The problem has always been this: When I look at you, I taste lime, and I see light on water.” SHARA SPEAKS IN POETRY, PRETTY MUCH
I Kissed Shara Wheeler is a bit absurd. A wacky, gossip-filled treasure hunt with good heart. I’d struggle to explain the plot to you, but it’s one of the most romantic books I’ve ever read. I think it’s so romantic because it’s atypical and a bit ugly and complicated. I Kissed Shara Wheeler is weird. Okay, it’s really weird, but it works!
It’s abundant in their other books and very clear here: without fail, Caey McQuiston’s books seem to inspire this pure, affectionate joy. They’re the reigning champion of the found family trope. The characters will come together en mass, collective and queer and weird. And that is why they’re my favourite author.
So, maybe there has been lots of hype for IKSW. Maybe I’ve just missed it. But the book certainly hasn’t properly breached the hallowed halls of book blogging – as it rightfully deserves. We all know the power blogging, Booktok and Bookgram hold; we can immortalize books, make or break them. IKSW shouldn’t be pushed aside just because it doesn’t follow the conventional formula for Young Adult books. On the contrary, it’s quirky, queer individuality needs to celebrated. I genuinely believe this book could change people’s lives, especially of those living in conservative areas. I Kissed Shara Wheeler deserves all the hype it’s already received and so much more.
Where’s the hype? Let’s go out and make some.