Review: The Girls I’ve Been

As soon as I heard about the premise of Tess Sharpe’s latest book, I knew I needed to read it and then was absolutely hooked by that synopsis. Thank you so much to Becci Mansell at Hachette Children’s Group for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

As an ex con artist, Nora has always got herself out of tricky situations. But the ultimate test lies in wait when she’s taken hostage in a bank heist. And this time, Nora doesn’t have an escape plan …

Meet Nora. Also known as Rebecca, Samantha, Haley, Katie and Ashley – the girls she’s been.

Nora didn’t choose a life of deception – she was born into it. As the daughter of a con artist who targeted criminal men, Nora always had to play a part. But when her mother fell for one of the men instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con herself: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal – but things are far from it when she finds herself held at gunpoint in the middle of a bank heist, along with Wes (her ex-boyfriend) and Iris (her secret new girlfriend and mutual friend of Wes … awkward). Now it will take all of Nora’s con artistry skills to get them out alive.

Because the gunmen have no idea who she really is – that girl has been in hiding for far too long …

TW: shooting, hostages, mention of car accident, blood, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, fire (full list here)

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

The Girls I’ve Been has to be one of the best YA thrillers I’ve ever read and I’m pretty well-versed in the genre. This is an incredibly addictive and tense book that you will find it impossible to tear yourself away from. 

Sharpe’s writing is so arresting and engaging, right from that explosive start. From there the tension and stakes only rampant up, making it a claustrophobic and heart-racing read. I tore through the pages, wanting to know what would happen next. It’s so compactly plotted and is going to translate perfectly to the big screen. You never know quite where the story is going next, or indeed what Nora might do next. The twists, when they come, are perfectly executed and lead to some genuinely shocking moments. Under it all is the warped, twisted dynamic between Nora and her mum. This is a spine-tingling level of atrocity, particuarly as more is revealed, that truly demonstrates the lasting impact of emotional abuse and manipulation. Nora is little more than a particularly useful chess piece in her mother’s eyes, just another cog in the con. 

Nora herself is a fascinating main character. She’s determined to not be defined solely by her past, but she’s aware that certain actions will forever impact how she views the world. I really liked her moral grayness and how she valued survival above everything initially, but learnt to trust and love again. Abuse erodes all sense of that and Nora has grown up in a manipulative situation, where she was used as a commodity over and over again. Her relationship with Iris was so lovely to see and you could feel her desire to protect her from everything, while not underestimating her capability. All her relationships are complex, as they’re built on a web of secrets that’s so intricate yet precarious at every turn. Similarly with Wes, they form a trio that is tightly woven by a shared understanding of the darkness of the world, creating this wonderful found family dynamic. 

I really enjoyed Nora’s many past and present narratives were woven together, exploring the danger of the present but also the many forms of monsters in her past. This is fundamentally a story of Nora trying to establish her own identity and break free from the abusive controls she’s always grown up within. Trauma lingers and its effects ripple, affecting everything in its path. I thought Sharpe handled this topic extremely well, with a nuanced and sensitive exploration of trauma. The different girls Nora has been are kind of fragmented parts of herself, parts of a con taking on sentience, that she has to grapple with. Sharpe does not shy away from highlighting the darkness and evil that Nora encounters along the way. She really emphasises how monsters often hide behind charming, presentable faces. 

Finally, without giving anything away, that ending was just perfect for me. It didn’t offer a simplistic, neat ending, because there just wasn’t one. However, it did provide enough closure to what I considered to be the central conflict of the book. The story is left slightly open and ambiguous, but I really enjoyed it as it felt like the natural conclusion. 

The Girls I’ve Been is an early standout of the year for me, offering a gripping story that I know I’ll be rereading over and over again.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Girls I’ve Been

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