Review by: Rebecca R.

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Nora O’Malley—at least, that’s her name right now—possesses an eventful past, thanks to the many identities that her mother forced onto her over the course of their various cons. After her sister, Lee, assists her in jailing their cruel and demanding mother (whose selfish desires caused trauma for the both of them), Nora is trying to figure out, with puzzling trial and error, how to live in a happy and “normal” way. Now, she is fleeing from her past, both figuratively and literally. Currently, Nora’s current small town life consists of rebuilding trust with her ex-boyfriend, Wes (who knows her conning secrets), admiring her girlfriend, Iris (and her puffy vintage dresses), conning Wes’ abusive father, and scrolling through conspiracy theory message boards about her personal past. 

Things are going all right, Nora guesses, until Wes catches her and Iris kissing. She hadn’t wanted to bring it up to him, as they had been carefully reconnecting as “frankenfriends,” and she’d feared the situation would cause some severe awkwardness. Sadly, it does, especially as Wes found out the night before the three of them were supposed to deposit money at the bank from their animal shelter fundraiser.

Get in. Deposit the money. Get out. This is Nora’s plan, one she is not particularly looking forward to—but of course, The Girls I’ve Been is a 368-page book, and Nora is a broken character whom Tess Sharpe is itching to develop. After all, this is a bank-robbery-meets-coming-of-age novel, people.

Five seconds after the uncomfortable trio enters the bank, the three teenagers are barked at to throw their belongings in a pile and get on the ground by two adult men, who have a telling leader-follower relationship. Iris and Wes are scared out of their wits, but Nora is already sowing her seeds. 

Nora’s character is beautifully constructed, especially since Sharpe utilizes the first person point of view throughout the novel, allowing the reader to develop a personal connection to Nora and the dark, personal secrets of her past that she divulges. Additionally, Sharpe speaks true to many teenagers today through Nora by applying concepts and struggles such as attempting to fit in, finding and exploring one’s identity and values, dealing with one’s past, finding genuine friends, adapting to new areas, and the nuances and difficulties of trust. Nora also mentions many times how therapy has helped her in processing her past and identity, which contributes to needed advocacy for taking care of one’s mental health and talking about one’s problems with others. Moreover, The Girls I’ve Been also includes notions of feminism when Nora fights back against men who abuse, undermine, and gaslight her. 

Tess Sharpe intricately weaves the thrilling and fast-paced plot of a bank robbery with the influentially devastating events of Nora’s past by slipping in stories of the different girls she has been in the form of flashbacks as their own chapters. Somehow, the book achieves this without making the reader confused or lost by adding them in at appropriate times. I applaud this because, after reading the same formats of young adult novels over and over again, The Girls I’ve Been acts as cold water during a hot summer day in the world of literature. 

You should check out this riveting novel if you enjoy heists, juicy backstories, both straight and lgbtq+ romance, suspense, and/or intricate plans. The Girls I’ve Been is also the perfect novel to read while undergoing the dog days of school, since the writing style is easy to read in addition to its refreshing and unique qualities. 

The Girls I’ve Been receives five out of five “glitter hourglasses” for its unique approach on and acknowledgements of mental health, feminism, and the age-old use of backstories in a way that adds a sprinkle of thrill into the reader’s imagination.