I Kissed Shara Wheeler Review: Queerness in a religious community

June 17, 2022 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

I Kissed Shara Wheeler Review: Queerness in a religious communityI Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia, St. Martin's Press on May 3, 2022
Source: Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Amazon | Book Depository | Publisher | Angus & Robertson | Booktopia
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From the New York Times bestselling author of One Last Stop and Red, White & Royal Blue comes a debut YA romantic comedy about chasing down what you want, only to find what you need...
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.
Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston's I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

After the m/m royal romance, Red White and Royal Blue came out, I was definitely keen to pick up the newly released queer contemporary book.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler offers a deep dive into queerness in a religious Christian school, and the forced pressure that comes with what is expected of you. From Chloe, the  bisxual rebel who is also the “cool girl”, Smith the footballer and then the boy next door, and even perfect Shara – none of these characters are as they seem when we first meet them.

Set in Alabama, at Willowgrove Christian Academy, there’s a lot to unpack here as Chloe is graduating her senior year. She’s in the run to become the valedictorian, and the only thing standing in her way is Shara Wheeler. Beautiful, perfect, popular Shara seems to be the girl that everyone seems to love – and she’s also the beloved daughter of the Pastor at her scchool. However, the pieces don’t really fall into place as Chloe goes on a mission to decipher the clues that Shara has left around town – so she can find out where she is, and why she disappeared. One thing that really stuck out to me about this treasure hunt is that Shara’s father didn’t really seem to care when questioned about his daughter’s disappearance – which I found really weird. Or maybe it was just another clue to how things aren’t really as they seem on the surface.

Shara Wheeler dives into community, rumours and small town gossip and how everyone is putting on a show at Willowgrove. Chloe, who is bisexual from LA with two mums, schools some of her peers about gender identity, queerness and not being afraid to be yourself.  While I was unsure why her mums would put her in such a religious school (and not raise her in a more open-minded community, given who she is), I could definitely see how her presence helped the students grow. Even though she had to go through bullying and trauma dealing with some of the more close-minded people at school.

The core romance in Shara Wheeler is the perfect formula for a rivals to lovers book. Three unlikely people – Chloe, who is Shara’s academic rival, the boy next door, and Shara’s boyfriend band together to search for her. While I found some of the lamenting about Shara’s perfect attributes to be repetitive and slightly irritating, I was a big fan of Smith and Rory and how they discovered their own truth.

I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about queerness within a Churchy school and discovering who you really are, despite what other people expect you to be. I wasn’t really a fan of the dynamic between Chloe and Shara – they had an unhealthy obsession with one upping one another, and I found it a bit toxic. I also preferred the side characters to the main two characters. Despite this, the treasure hunt was a fun part of the book, and the book’s discussions on gender identity, queerness and expectations are definitely worthwhile.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for sending me a review copy!

I Kissed Shara Wheeler is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$26.99 or from The Book Depository.

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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