Kiss and tell with Casey McQuiston’s ‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’


Alie Teitz

Casey McQuiston’s “I Kissed Shara Wheeler” tells the story of a girl gone missing and the clues she leaves behind. Photo contributed by

Katie Langley, News Editor

There’s no shame in finding respite from a hectic day in a silly romance novel. However, Casey McQuiston’s “I kissed Shara Wheeler” is much more than silly: it’s suspenseful, heartfelt and so very queer. 

In truth, “I Kissed Shara Wheeler” isn’t a romance novel at first glance, but a mystery. In a “Paper Towns” by John Green-style disappearing act, Shara Wheeler goes missing the night of her senior prom. Wheeler, a perfect Christian girl from Alabama, leaves a trail in the form of three kisses and a slew of pink note cards, which bring together three unlikely detectives, each of whom received one of Wheeler’s final smooches. 

The first detective is Chloe Green, the nerdy, goth, California-native protagonist dead set on becoming valedictorian at a conservative Alabama high school that despises her for daring to stand out. Green’s only true competition is Wheeler, the daughter of the principal and seemingly perfect fit to the blonde cheerleader mold. Green and Wheeler compete bitterly for four years of high school, which is why it takes Green off-guard when Wheeler corners her, kisses her and promptly disappears.

The story intensifies when Green realizes she’s not the only one Wheeler kissed and ditched; she meets Rory Heron, a stoner and a slacker who spends his free time destroying government property. Ironically, Heron is Wheeler’s next-door neighbor at the pristine gated country club community where they both live. He crosses paths with Green while they both look for clues about Wheeler’s whereabouts, revealing they both received cryptic notes on monogrammed stationery. Heron, we find out, has been in love with Wheeler for years – or, at least, he thinks so. 

Of course, the cheerleader has to be dating the quarterback. Smith Parker is the third character who Wheeler leaves behind. Heron and Green begrudgingly involve Parker in their search for more pink notes from Wheeler. What starts as resentment grows into friendship, and it’s revealed that Parker and Heron have a history and that Green’s determination to catch Wheeler might not be rooted in hatred. 

Instead of relying on the mysterious soft boy (Heron) who gets the popular girl (Wheeler) in the end, McQuiston presents a “girl-gets-the-girl” story. It’s not an easy journey; both Green and Wheeler are convinced that she hates the other and would do anything – even staging her own disappearance – to win the prize of best in class. 

Throughout her journey, Green realizes that the town she’s despised throughout high school, False Beach, Alabama, has more to say than conservatism and suppression. There’s a whole lot of good there, too. This is relatable to anyone who grew up in a place that didn’t quite fit them. “Shara Wheeler” is about finding your people in an unusual place, and finding new qualities in people you thought you knew. 

Take, for example, Parker. What appears to be the stereotypical high school football player on the surface turned out to be my favorite character in this story. We see Smith grow through making sense of his relationships with Wheeler and Heron, which leads him to discover his sense of self and relationship with gender. 

Another valuable story of “Shara Wheeler” is the power of queer friendships. Green has a group of theater kid friends, the closest of which is Georgia. Georgia and Green are both gay, but Green, having two moms and coming from the accepting world of California, is able to be out, while Georgia is not. Throughout the book, Green learns that living as a queer person can be more layered than coming out or not; it also has to do with fulfilling your parent’s expectations and responding to the circumstances and place you were born into. 

The last quarter of the book takes a complete 360-degree turn after Wheeler’s much-anticipated return. The mystery turns into a story about teen rage and protests against conservative institutions. McQuiston’s book destroys the idea that media that revolves around gay characters can’t have happy endings, and that teenagers can’t know better than their parents and principals. “I Kissed Shara Wheeler” is a wonderful read, and it’s exactly what my pre-teen self needed.