I Kissed Shara Wheeler

By Casey Mcquiston

Published by Pan Macmillan

AFTER two bestselling new adult romances, Red, White and Royal Blue and with an upcoming Amazon movie adaptation Casey Mcquiston’s Young Adult debut carries the same charming sense of humour and heart for a teenage audience.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler blends romantic comedy with an intriguing mystery against the backdrop of young people breaking through religious pressures of small-town Alabama with unlikely friendships and newfound rebellion.

Since Chloe and her moms’ move to False Beach, Alabama from Los Angeles due to the declining health of her grandmother, she’s resented it. But while the town rarely feels like home she’s found solace in her friends and the theatre programme, the only part of Willowgrove Christian Academy, where she can be openly bisexual and act and sing and be part of her community.

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She does not want to venture outside of her group, especially not to befriend Shara Wheeler, the perfect daughter of the principal who everyone wants to know. Chloe has always felt like she saw through her somehow but Shara’s sweet, unassuming mirage never slipped. It frustrates Chloe endlessly, until the day Shara Wheeler kisses her and disappears.

The contrast with the image Shara projected and her real self drew Chloe in and now she must use her knowledge to find where she might have gone.

Chloe discovers Shara has kissed two other people before leaving, Rory, her brooding outcast next door neighbour who had long since harboured feelings for her, and Smith her football player boyfriend of two years. So the unlikely trio decide to team up to find her.

Each of them are bound by their unique and complicated relationships to Shara.

Together they discover notes written in impeccable handwriting on pink stationery, tied to personal memories or interests of each of the three, leaving clues toward the next note, ensuring this is a mystery none of them can solve alone.

As Chloe becomes closer to Rory and Smith, the rest of the world fades out and she becomes obsessed with the hope of finding the truth buried beneath all of these riddles.

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While in fiction it is common to see characters written into types of people, recognisable for one primary characteristic or trope but never really whole, the very core of this book challenges this. The social structure of Chloe’s school relies on pushing people into boxes of this kind, and even she who hates it had been willing to accept her place until Shara Wheeler dared to disappear, and slowly, one letter at a time, reveal the complex truth of herself to the people with the capacity to truly understand her.

Every moment is a reminder of what it is to be young, in love, messy and complex despite pressures whether from family, community or religion.