I Kissed Shara Wheeler

Wednesday Bks. May 2022. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250244451.
Gr 9 Up–Shara Wheeler has disappeared, and Chloe Green, her long-term arch-rival for valedictorian at their conservative Christian school, is determined to find her. In Chloe’s mind, Shara is pulling this stunt just to mess with her, but apparently Shara wants to be found: she left clues with Chloe; Shara’s popular boyfriend, Smith; and Rory, Smith’s ex-best friend who has pined after Shara for years. Turns out that all three have kissed Shara, and they spend the last few weeks of senior year furiously searching for her. Chloe belatedly realizes that her most precious friendships and relationships have suffered because of this hunt, that not everyone is as they seem, and that she must decide how Shara fits into her life now that she can grow beyond Willowgrove Christian Academy. The cast of characters is racially diverse, and many are LGBTQIA+, including a gender nonbinary friend of Chloe’s. Chloe herself has two moms, and everyone is individually processing how to survive and thrive in small town Alabama within the confines of its conservative worldview. McQuiston deftly uses humor to communicate these struggles without dismissing religion. Her characters are well-rounded and relatable, especially Chloe, who admits that she uses surliness as a shield of protection against the world. The hunt for Shara stops just short of being madcap, and the story morphs into a more standard—yet sharp and enjoyable—“last goodbye” plot as Chloe and her friends figure out what life will look like after Willowgrove.
VERDICT A worthwhile investment for public and school libraries that features humor, friendships, romance, and the confrontation of bigotry and hypocrisy. Highly recommended.

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