Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.
For five years Nora’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’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.
#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:
#3: Right after they enter bank, two guys start robbing it.
The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage…
Title: The Girls I’ve Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Publisher: Hachette Children’s
Intended Audience: Young Adult
TW: read the full list by the author here.
Tropes: friends to lovers, lovers to friends, found family, morally grey main character.
By the age of 18, Nora O’Malley has lived many, many lives. Raised on secrets and lies, she was trained by her con artist mother to be whichever ‘perfect daughter’ she needed. Even years after she escapes the life she was thrown into, she can’t quite seem to leave it behind her. When she finds herself as a hostage in a bank robbery — with her older sister outside acting as a hostage negotiator, her current girlfriend Iris and her ex-boyfriend-turned-best-friend Wes inside with her — it isn’t long before Nora realises she has to both call on all the experiences from her past in order to get the people she loves out alive. Switching between flashbacks into Nora’s childhood, important points in her histories with Iris and Wes and the present events of the robbery, we see how all the girls Nora has been have shaped the girl and the survivor that she is today.
I remember seeing this book on so many people’s anticipated releases lists for this year and being immediately captured by the title and concept, so much so that it went straight on my TBR without me looking into it much further. I will make a small disclaimer that I am not usually drawn to YA thrillers but something about the con artistry aspect and the setting really intrigued me. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an e-arc for it, so thank you again to NetGalley UK and Hachette Children’s Group for sending me what is set to be a very strong contender for my favourite book of the year.
First of all, the writing of this book was spectacular: fast-paced and engaging from start to finish, this was one of those whirlwind books where I would look at the clock and realise hours had gone by without me realising because I was so engrossed in the story. The escalation of the bank robbery was an absolute masterclass in story-telling, each reveal giving way to a new secret or link to the main character’s past and creating such a cool build in tension. The flashbacks had a cinematic ‘jump cut’ quality to them that ripped you from the present events and the shorter chapters, used sparingly to give a bit of context, feel very much like a conspiratorial break in the fourth wall. It’s easy to understand why this book has already been secured by Netflix for a movie adaptation as the story already feels as though it could stand up against the likes of Ocean’s Eleven and Money Heist for a younger audience. Sharpe’s writing style was consistently frenetic — if that’s even possible? — throughout the whole book which only added to the tension and turbulent pace of the story. I cannot begin to imagine the planning that went into piecing together the timelines and plot points, every twist was both shocking and satisfying in equal measure.
The thing I’m often put off by when it comes to YA thrillers is the logic aspect of it – how is it that a high-schooler can debunk the mystery Scooby-Doo style with seemingly no experience? If there’s one thing Nora O’Malley isn’t short of, it’s experience. Her upbringing and everything she’s been through make it much easier to justify her supreme problem-solving skills and her ability to talk circles her opposition. I really enjoyed Nora’s voice as the narrator, I found myself very invested in the outcome of her plot to escape and her relationships with the other characters.
My favourite thing about this story was the element of found family surrounding these characters, particularly between Nora and Wes. The two of them held each other up through every hardship and you could really see the love that they’ve built for each other on their journey from exes to “franken-friends”. The author has spoken previously about how she believes that survivors are sometimes drawn to each other and I think these three characters illustrate that sentiment perfectly. It was both heartwarming and heartbreaking seeing them reveal so much of themselves to each other under such harrowing circumstances, all three of them were very guarded, strong people but very distinctive in both their approach to the circumstances and their growth as the plot progressed. Along with the survivor rep, Nora and Iris are both bisexual women and Iris has endometriosis, a condition which Sharpe herself lives with and one I haven’t seen touched on very often in fiction. The final pages of the physical copy also include information regarding sexual and domestic violence and endometriosis and resources for those struggling.
I distinctly remember finishing this book and having to stop myself from immediately rereading it. Then this morning, when my pre-order arrived, I had to stop myself from rereading it again! To say I enjoyed The Girls I’ve Been would be an understatement – it blew my tiny mind! I think any fans of Sadie by Courtney Summers would really enjoy this one, along with those who loved One of Us Is Lying and Chelsea Pitcher’s books. Will I start picking up more YA thrillers now? If they’ll be as knock-out as this one was, most definitely.