Review: The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

A deliciously commercial YA page-turner about the daughter of a con artist who is taken hostage in a bank heist.

Nora O’Malley is a lot of things. A sister. An ex. A secret girlfriend. Kind of crooked, but reformed… somewhat.

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up her mother’s protege. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years she’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’ve all been inseparable for months, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised together. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly.

Because #3: right after they get in the bank, two guys start robbing it.

But they have no idea who they’re really holding hostage.

The robbers are trouble. Nora’s something else entirely.

Title: The Girls I’ve Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller
Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Bisexual main character, bisexual love interest, lesbian side character
Trigger Warnings: guns and mentions of guns, mention of fire, being held at gun point, shooting (chapter 2), blood and mentions of blood, mentions of a car accident (chapter 3), mentions of prison (chapter 2, chapter 14), alcohol and mentions of underage drinking, robbery, con artists, references to and mentions of domestic abuse, mentions of mensuration (chapter 14, chapter 43), mentions of chronic illness – endometriosis (chapter 14), mentions of mutilation (chapter 28), mentions of vomit, mentions of recreational drug use (weed), mentions of murder, knives, mentions of rape and molestation (chapter 36, chapter 41), stabbing (chapter 38, chapter 41), chocking (chapter 38), homemade bomb, mentions of teen pregnancy and abortion (chapter 49) – you can also view the triggers warnings directly from the author here (which I would recommend just in case I accidentally left anything out)
Rating:  ★★★★★

The Girls I’ve Been is one of the most intriguing stories that I’ve read all year. Right from the beginning you’re thrown into the action and nothing slows down until you’ve read the final sentence. 

The pacing of this book was impeccable, and I love that it was told in a non-linear format. With the fast-paced nature of the plot, it only made sense that the storytelling followed that same pace. The stakes were incredibly high from the first chapter, and I found myself holding my breath for the majority of the book. I thought that the way the story unfolded was done brilliantly. I loved that we jump straight into the action and then the backstory is revealed as a counterpoint to the current action. Formatting the story this way also told us so much about Nora and her motivations because we got to see the moments from her past that are influencing her current choices.

Me, I was born into the con. I came into the world with a lie on my lips and the ability to smile and dazzle, just like my mother. Charm, people call it. Useful is what it is. To see into the heart of someone and adjust accordingly, instantaneously, to mirror that heart? It’s not a gift or a curse. It’s just a tool

I loved Nora. She was whip smart, crazy resourceful and unpredictable. She was so layered and complex which made her completely fascinating. She had such a strong voice and I loved reading the story through her eyes. Nora is an incredibly strong and resilient character. She was also very reckless, which is a direct result of her upbringing. There were so many moments where I found myself saying, “Nora, what are you doing!?” but, while she definitely made some reckless choices, she always did so to help others. In fact, most of the choices she makes are for others and not herself. For someone who was raised by a tremendously selfish person, Nora herself is actually pretty selfless in the fact that she’s willing to put herself at risk to protect others. I definitely want to read the book again and really study Nora as a character now that I know what is going to happen because I think Nora is the kind of character that you never stop learning about.

The Girls I’ve Been is also a strong commentary on how girls and women are never allowed to just be and exist. We always have to be something for someone. A huge part of the story is Nora learning who she actually is. She spent so little time being herself as a child because she had to be Rebecca or Samantha or Haley or Katie or Ashley – whoever it was that her mother needed her to be in order to run her latest con. She doesn’t know how to just be who she is – because she has no idea who that person is when she’s not running a con. She’s slowly started to come into herself (or at least the person she wants to be) but there are moments where she has to lean into the lessons her mother taught her, and that is a slippery slope for her. 

Practically everyone thinks they’re smarter than a teenage girl. It’s what makes being one so powerful, if you know how to use that giant mistake of an assumption.

All of the characters were so well done. I really liked all of the main characters, and I adored Iris. At the beginning of the book it’s easy to underestimate her as “girly girl” because of her sweet nature and vintage dresses. A few of the characters do underestimate Iris (including Nora at some points) and watching her prove them wrong is so satisfying. She was so cool and I had so much respect for her; she was also a really great match for Nora. She was definitely stronger, smarter and more resourceful than anyone gave her credit for and I really gravitated towards her.

The dynamic between Nora, Wes and Iris was fantastic. The whole “franken-friends” idea is one that I just loved and I thought worked so well. I loved how despite their differences and the secrets that were being kept between them, they really would do anything for each other and they proved that when they needed to. It really warmed my heart that Lee took Wes in because she knew he needed people to love him unconditionally and she knew that she and Nora could do that for him. I thought that dynamic was great, and I loved how Lee referred to them as “her kids”. I think it really goes to show how a found family can be so important and can absolutely save your life. 

The Girls I’ve Been is one of the most well written books I’ve read all year with a gripping story and stellar characters. If you want a thrilling and fast paced book this is a must read.

Links for The Girls I’ve Been: Goodreads | TheStoryGraph | Bookshop | IndieBound

Born in a mountain cabin to a punk-rocker mother, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural northern California. She lives deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a growing colony of formerly feral cats. She is the author of Barbed Wire Heart, the critically acclaimed YA novel Far From You and the upcoming Jurassic World prequel, The Evolution of Claire.

She is also the co-editor of Toil & Trouble, a feminist anthology about witches. Her short fiction has been featured in All Out, an anthology edited by Saundra Mitchell. 

Tess is represented by Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary Management. Please send all rights inquiries and blurb requests to Jim.  

Follow Tess: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Blog

15 thoughts on “Review: The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

  1. Hello this book is literally my obsession so we have to chat about it one day (if you want to, that is)!! I really, really agree with this review tho because omg this IS one of the most intriguing stories I’ve read, like, ever! Love it ❤

    Like

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