“I Kissed Shara Wheeler” Is Another Swoony Queer Romance From Casey McQuiston

I know this is going to sound dramatic, but sometimes I feel like Casey McQuiston was born to be the storyteller to get us through this pandemic. I don’t need to tell you how bleak things are for the entire world, and especially for LGBTQ people right now, with old school homophobia making its way back into state legislatures and all kinds of new ways for trans people to suffer state-sanctioned oppression and bigotry. Plus, of course, losing the Magic Books so many of us found ourselves in when we were growing up. And TV! That brutal Killing Eve finale, the cancellation of Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow. It feels like we’re being forced to take ten steps backwards every day. And then there’s Casey McQuiston, writing queer romance for the ages. They landed in my life right on time with Red, White & Royal Blue, when I was in the first stages of Long Covid. They made me swoon into oblivion with their follow-up, One Last Stop. And today their new book, I Kissed Shara Wheeler, lands, and it too made my little lesbian heart sing.

Chloe Green is probably McQuiston’s most challenging protagonist to date. And rightly so. She’s an over-achieving queer teenager raised by two moms who moved her from California to Alabama, and she’s been in a fierce competition with Shara Wheeler, the most popular girl at Willowgrove Academy, for the Valedictorian spot from the day she arrived. She’s surrounded by conservative Christians she cannot relate to, other students she thinks lack ambition and culture. She’s so close to reaching her goal of Being The Best and busting out of this backwoods town — and then Shara Wheeler kisses her, and disappears. Chloe teams up with Shara’s QB boyfriend and her neighbor — the other two people she’s kissed — as they track down the pink envelopes Shara left behind. They’re full of cryptic messages about where she is and why she vanished. As Chloe discovers how wrong she was about Shara, she also begins to discover who she really is and what she really wants. Like all great romances, one good kiss blew her life wide open!

The way McQuiston surprised me with their first two books is the same way they surprised me with this one. For starters, I have read and watched and played a lot of stories in my life. A LOT. It’s my actual job. So it’s hard to make me feel that consuming up-all-night impulse that keeps me turning pages until the sun rises because I’ve just gotta know what happens. But McQuiston gets me every single time! I didn’t even start reading this one until I had a free weekend because I knew once I started it, I simply would not stop. And then there’s the found family. I’m in it for the romance between the main characters, that’s what I want to devour, smooches and happy endings. And yet! McQuiston crafts these fully realized supporting characters that I think are just going to be page fillers but become some of my favorite fictional people ever, and the relationships they form with the protagonist, they ring so true and feel so lived in and become one of the most rewarding parts of the story. I can’t believe — cannot! believe! — that McQuiston had me feeling deep affection for a high school quarterback from Alabama. (I say that as a lesbian who went to high school in Georgia and had my heart ripped apart repeatedly by my friends who dated quarterbacks.)

Finally, the thing that continues to shock and delight me about McQuiston is that they stick the landing, every single time. It is so rare — not just now, but always — to be truly satisfied with the ending of a queer story. But McQuiston has pulled a hat trick and done it now three times in a row. I’ll wear this book out the way I’ve worn out Red, White & Royal Blue and One Last Stop. I Kissed Shara Wheeler hit closest to home for me, sometimes in deeply uncomfortable ways, but it was a balm to the younger me that’s always going to live inside my brain and heart.

Things feel so defeating right now, but McQuiston says that love is indomitable, and when I’m lost in their worlds, I really believe it.


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Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1484 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. I’m on my library wait list for this one and I’m very excited for it to become available.

    I skipped Red, White & Royal Blue because it didn’t (and still doesn’t) seem like my thing but I really loved Last Stop. It was such a love letter to queer community and also to that particular magic of moving to a new city in your 20s and looking for your people and your place in the world.

    • I didn’t think Red White and Royal Blue would be my thing either, but I loved One Last Stop so much I decided to give it a try, and I really liked it! In fact I have read itntwice and liked it better the 2nd time. The way McQuiston writes queer family is just so good.

    • I also thought Red, White & Royal Blue wouldn’t be my thing but it totally was. Nearly everything you mention loving about One Last Stop also applies to this one. Differently, but still very much the heart of it.

  2. I adored RWRB and only meh liked OLS… So I am hoping Shara Wheeler brings it back up for me, instead of putting me off their writing completely.
    Got the audiobook today so I’m excited !!

    • Same for both. I think I wouldn’t have loved One Last Stop even without the comparison to how much I preferred RWRB, but I suppose we’ll never know.

      But I will read queer YA any damn day, so excited to check this out.

    • I felt the exact same and put off reading Shara Wheeler because I thought it would be like One Last Stop – it was FANTASTIC. Just one of my favourite reads of the year. Very page turn-y, with twists I didn’t predict (and I often see twists coming in books, especially YA) and some I satisfyingly did…a romance I ended up really caring about and characters who changed and grew and were just so loveable. I seriously recommend.

  3. just binge read the whole book in one go, so I definitely felt that gotta know what happens impulse too! this book was so excellent. I had enjoyed OLS and RWaRB but this is probably my favorite, even though I’m not usually a YA-over-new-adult person.

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