I Kissed Shara Wheeler

- Casey McQuiston

GOODREADS BOOK BLURB:

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s 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 progeny.

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 neighbor 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.

GENRES:

FIRST WORDS:

Chloe Green is going to put her fist through a window.

MY REVIEW:

enjoyable/easy to read:
3.5/5
This is the first book by McQuiston that I can’t rate five stars. There was a strong effort near the end to finish on a high note, but it was too little, too late.

Paper Towns wasn’t my favourite John Green novel, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that as basically a retelling, I Kissed Shara Wheeler wasn’t much better. The mysterious ‘it girl’ is one of my least favourite tropes—especially one as manipulative and with as little self-awareness as Shara. Add in Chloe’s abrasive and often aggressive attitude, and I Kissed Shara Wheeler was a hard sell.

There’s nothing worse than building up a friendship and throwing it away immediately. I really struggle when ‘loner’ characters describe the strong friendship they have with another outsider as the most important relationship in their life and then drop them as soon as something better and shinier comes along. The moment Shara kisses Chloe, Georgia is forgotten and ignored. Chloe becomes so hyper-focused on Shara she leaves her friend group behind and stops caring about anyone else. It’s so frustrating and transparent and predictable.
Yes, the whole point is for Chloe to forget about everything in her search for Shara, but a more complex narrative would’ve allowed her to maintain the ‘most important relationship in her life’. Particularly when it’s so clear that Georgia is struggling and has been trying to tell Chloe something for ages. It’s very hard to get behind a protagonist who is so demonstrably selfish in an incredibly one-sided friendship.
Thankfully, Chloe and Shara start figuring their shit out, but it takes way too long. It’s difficult to win your reader over after 250 pages convincing them these characters are selfish and manipulative. You need more than 100 pages to walk that all back and convince everyone your characters have redeemable qualities.
I know McQuiston pokes at this a little bit near the beginning:
“I don’t get the Austen thing with you,” Chloe says as Georgia slips between the rungs of the ladder to the shag rug below. “I always found Emma annoying.”
“The book or the character?”
“The character. The book is fine.”
Georgia leads the way to the front desk, announced by the echoing clangs of the water bottle she always carries as it collides with bookshelves and chairs. Georgia’s mom waves from across the store, headphones on as she does inventory.
“Why is Emma annoying?” Georgia asks.
“Because she’s manipulative,” Chloe says. “I don’t think she really makes up for everything she does to everyone else by the end.”
“The point of the book isn’t for her to make everything right. It’s for her to be interesting,” Georgia says, slipping behind the desk for her things.
but it’s not quite enough to make up for the overall experience here.
It’s hard not to feel disappointed. While the last 25% of the book does a good job of reframing the first 75%, it doesn’t have the same charm or create the same level of joy as Red, White & Royal Blue and One Last Stop. I will still eagerly read the next book by McQuiston, but I’m sad the five-star streak has ended.

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