The Girls I’ve Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Page Count: 356
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Original Publication Date: 2021
Genre(s): YA, Thriller, Contemporary
Who is Nora O’Malley? Is that even her real name? She’s been playing pretend for so long – almost her whole life – she’s not really sure who she is. The daughter of a con artist, she was forced to play along with her mother’s games – until she finally escaped. Five years later and she’s trying to be normal. She’s Nora. She goes to school and therapy like any other normal girl. Except now she’s in a bank with her ex-boyfriend and her current girlfriend, which would be the worst thing going on in her life except said bank is being robbed by two men with guns. And it’s going to take everything Nora has learned, and the experience of all the girls she’s been, to get her out of this mess.
The Girls I’ve Been is told in first person POV from Nora’s perspective. It flashes back and forth between present-day chapters and a blend of flashback chapters and Nora’s inner thought/monologue chapters. Most of the chapters are short and choppy, especially early on, so you’re never really thrown out of the action of the present-day robbery. And being marketed as a page-turner/thriller, that’s crucial. Most of the flashback chapters have enough intrigue and thrill themselves that you’re never really bored, no matter which time you’re in. The thrill is definitely there, and it’s hard to put the book down once you pick it up.
YA thrillers can either be really well done, or they’re just plain bad – there’s usually not an in-between for me. As a YA novel, this one was far more gruesome than I’d originally thought it’d be. And I don’t just mean blood and violence – though there’s plenty of that. I mean some really intense abuse and sexual assault scenes. Please please please look up trigger warnings for this novel before diving in. I know the synopsis makes it sound like a light YA story, but there’s a lot of heaviness here that you should be aware of before getting into it, if you like to be prepared for that kind of thing. The author herself has detailed them all here, so please check this out if you are in need of TWs.
This is my first Tess Sharpe experience. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing, especially when it came to dialogue in some parts, but it didn’t bother me too much once I really got into the action. It’s definitely one of those YA thrillers that call for setting aside reality. The things that happen to and around Nora are pretty unbelievable. Nora herself can be unbelievable at times. But that didn’t bother me much, either. Real life is pretty boring – I’m happy to enjoy a thriller that’s heavy on the fiction. This is fiction, after all. It doesn’t have to be believable. I find the unbelievable ones to be much more enjoyable, and that was the case here. Other than being outrageously smart and handy, Nora is an interesting main character. Love the bi representation. Love the mommy issues (she has more than I do!). Love the trauma. She’s a complex character and it was really interesting getting to know her.
All in all, a fast-paced thriller that’s much darker than I originally anticipated. I went in expecting robbery/heist/con action, and though I did get that, I also got a lot more. Many scenes made me flashback to some of my own trauma (thanks, mom!) and others just made me feel slightly sick. Definitely a powerful novel, but also a fun one. I was never bored and I found it hard to put down. If you’re looking for a quick thrill featuring LGBTQ characters, some seriously messed up shit, and a high-stakes bank heist gone wrong, you’ll want to read this book. It helped pull me out of my post-Grishaverse reading slump, and I’m forever grateful. This story is in good hands with Netflix, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.