Cover Image: The Girls I've Been

The Girls I've Been

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Member Reviews

The Girls I've Been by Tess Sharpe is an excruciatingly good thriller that examines the destructive relationships between child and parent. Part White Oleander, part hostage situation, and part teen drama, TGIB is a dark and gritty story that leaves readers on the edge of their seats. Sharpe excels in building realistic characters and situations without bogging the reader down in clunky development. While this book was much darker than I anticipated, I was hooked from the start and couldn't put the novel down. I would highly recommend trigger warnings to be better shared with readers before the story begins, but I will definitely recommend this book to others.
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In lesser hands, The Girls I’ve Been could’ve been a thriller that drew most of its tension from the dynamic between Nora, her girlfriend, and ex-boyfriend trapped in a life-threatening situation together.

Tess Sharpe, however, deftly both subverts and sidesteps this trope, instead focusing on the protagonist’s internal conflict and the concept of identity.


TGIB sets up as a normal day gone wrong. Protagonist Nora visits the bank with her girlfriend Iris and ex-boyfriend Wes. Their simple trip turns into a nightmare when the bank is robbed and their lives are in danger. Trapped and desperate to find a way to escape, Nora is forced to confront her past and the secrets she’s kept buried.


The various facets of love are on display in the relationships Nora shares with the people in her life. Both healthy and otherwise.

The dynamic between Nora, Iris, and Wes is particularly refreshing. Built on love, rather than jealousy, the author crafts believable, relatable characters. 


TGIB is not a heist novel. It’s a harrowing exploration of predators, trauma, and the dark, twisted horrors of humanity.

Trigger warnings abound as Sharpe tackles how trauma affects survivors, and the delicate relationship between parent and child.

With each chapter, we follow Nora as she recalls her past identities with increasingly ominous glimpses into the toxic relationships she shared with parental figures.


TGIB is not for the faint of heart. If you do enjoy a gripping tale of trauma and love, however, pick it up immediately. The pacing is exquisite, and the characters are beautifully believable.
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There’s something about YA thrillers that hit different, and this one was a non-stop, heart-pounding ride. I knew this book was going to be fast-paced, but friends, I was SPEED READING as fast as I could to get to the end.

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe flips back and forth between present day, and snapshots of the past. In the present, our main character Nora, along with her girlfriend and best friend, are caught up in a bank robbery. Ya, it sounds dangerous, but what’s actually more dangerous: two bank robbers without a solid plan, or the daughter of a con artist? That’s right, Nora has some tricks up her sleeves, and the flashbacks to the past show us just who she really is (and isn’t).

I absolutely loved this book. From the pacing to the characters, the reflection on identity and finding yourself, and having strength and resilience in dire situations. Plus, there was LGBTQ+ rep, a minor character who talks about having endometriosis, and just enough crime to keep you on your toes. This book packed so much, and kept me wildly entertained until the very end.

This is one that can easily be read in a couple sittings, and it’s apparently being adapted by Netflix as well (I’m not surprised). Be sure to pick it up if you like fast-paced thrillers, or contemporary YA books.

Trigger/content warnings: violence, emotional and physical abuse, hostage situations.

Thank you so much to Penguin Teen Canada for sending me a digital ARC of this book! The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe came out on January 26, 2021, and can be purchased wherever books are sold.
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This book is extremely engaging and suspenseful, with an action-driven as well as a character-driven plot. It involves found-family, the thrill and heartbreak of young love, and the fierce loyalty of fellow survivors. The characters are well developed and interesting, quick-thinking, and inventive. The ending is both satisfying and open-ended enough to promise an exciting sequel. I enjoyed this book a lot, and I recommend it highly. It wasn’t quite good enough to warrant a full five stars, but it is a solid 4.5.
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Nora is a retired con artist. Over the years she’s been many girls, traveling the country with her con artist mother while she scams men. After a con-gone-wrong, her mother is in jail, and Nora is living in rural California with her sister. While depositing fundraising money at their local bank, Nora, her ex, and her girlfriend are taken hostage in a bank heist. As the bank robbers become more desperate, Nora leverages her skills to negotiate with the robbers before time runs out for Nora and the other hostages.

Part story of a con artist, part story of a bank heist, The Girl’s I’ve Been is a wild ride. Overall I enjoyed it, but I found it to be very dark. At first, I thought the overall vibe of the book was very light and humorous if a bit angsty. But as the story progressed, the darker backstory of Nora developed.

The story jumps back and forth in the first person from the present situation where Nora is trapped in the bank and the past where Nora is living with her mother and her various boyfriends. It has some very dark moments. The story starts slow but quickly picks up the pace.

Thank you to Penguin Teen and Netgalley for the review copy. All opinions are my own.
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I recommend this book 1000%! The story is uniquely told and kept me pulled in and completely interested. I bought a hard copy to add to my bookshelves. Such a great story
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The Girls I've Been
By Tess Sharpe

Oh my goodness Holy Moly Twisty! There is nothing like this book that got me all twisted and reading like a maniac. Nora's life has been on the run from the moment she was born. Her mother is a master of the sweetheart con and life on the run, and living a life where you are always running and reinventing yourself. Well, she has had enough of it. But as you know it, Nora gets taken hostage and there the adventure begins. 

A beautiful sapphic story about three teens trying to fight their own battles and live a life despite trauma and abuse. t is a story of love and courage, and a heroine from an unlikely past. 

Such a great and unique story that will keep you at the edge of your seat. What a fantastic and dark YA thriller.
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This book hooked me from the moment I started, I loved the main character! 
I found her incredibly sassy, and I really loved the action within the book. 
If she was cast, I would totally love to see Samara Weaving playing one of the characters.
Definitely going to recommend to friends!
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A captivating, queer YA thriller about a con artist in hiding who gets held up in a bank robbery.

Nora O’Malley (although that’s only her most recent name) is having a bad day. Her best friend and ex-boyfriend (Wes) is livid at her for keeping secrets (again!), her girlfriend (Iris) doesn’t know about her con-artist past (but Wes is pushing her to tell), and the three just became hostages in a bank robbery gone haywire. Now Nora needs to rely on her con artist skills to outwit the bank robbers, but doing so will reveal the girls she’s been not only to Iris but to someone from her past, someone who’s sworn to kill Nora (slowly and painfully) should he ever find her.

The Girls I’ve Been weaves in dual timelines through Nora’s life (present and past, past and present; rewind, fast forward, push play) with the precision of a surgeon applying sutures during a high-speed car chase. There’s some immense story craft at work here, making this YA thriller one of the most intriguing, engrossing, and unique novels I’ve read to date. It’s a con within a con within a con, a Russian nesting doll of cons — and personalities.

Amid high stakes (the sociopathic bank robber definitely intends to kill them) and flaming action (think burning petticoats and home-made bombs, both at the hands of Iris, who wants to become an arson investigator), Sharpe deftly incorporates Nora’s internal struggles. Nora has been many girls, and thus has been none and grapples to find her true North after her abusive mother (trigger warnings for sexual assault, emotional and physical abuse, violence, murder) raised her for the sweetheart con.

Focusing strongly on sibling love (it’s Nora’s much-older sister, Lee, who helped Nora escape their mom) as well as on found family (the friendship between Nora, Iris, and Wes is the weather-all-storm type, not a love triangle), The Girls I’ve Been reads like a legend because it is a legend.
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The main character, Nora, is a badass ex-con artist who finds herself in the middle of a bank robbery and hostage situation with her current girlfriend and ex-boyfriend. These bank robbers had no clue who they had taken hostage. I loved this fast-paced thriller and cannot wait to see the adaptation.
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The Girls I've Been was a pretty quick and interesting read. I was given an eARC by Penguin Teen in exchange for an honest review (thank you, Penguin Teen!) and was eager to get into it and see what Nora's story was. I really enjoyed the blend of the bank robbery/hostage situation, which all took place over one day, mixed with the flashback's to Nora's past and the various scams her mother had forced her to be a part of, which taught her what she knew and made her into the person she is today. The flashbacks corresponded well with what was going on in her current life, and I liked getting that background on how she knew what to do. I was way more interested in seeing what she decided to do in the moment to help her and her friends survive the hostage situation, and the decisions she made, but I definitely see why the author chose to include her background. 

Probably my favorite part of this book, though, was the found family aspect. I loved that Nora didn't have a traditional or "nuclear" family, but she did have a family, and she concerned the people who she had chosen to be closest to her her family, as did her older sister. (Her older sister was probably my favorite character, by the way.) Family isn't always blood, and there was a really impactful moment where Nora's older sister refers to Nora and Wes as "my kids" and it was heartwrenching because even though Wes isn't related to her by blood, it makes no difference to her. They care about each other and love each other and that is what matters. I always love found family aspects and I like to see this in books for young people so that both teenagers and adults alike can be reminded that our families don't have to look a certain way, and we shouldn't think less of ourselves if our family isn't exactly like another family. 

I've heard that this is being adapted into a Netflix movie starring Millie Bobby Brown, and I'd definitely check it out. I think it would make a good film and I could see Brown really handling this role well. 

I don't think I'd count this among my new favorites, but it was good and I enjoyed reading it. Thank you again, Penguin!
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I listed this title in LA County Library's February Staff Picks list:
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trigger warning: assault, child abuse, sexual abuse

Nora, a daughter of a con-artist, is caught in the middle of a bank robbery with her girlfriend and her ex-boyfriend. For five years she's been living a normal life with her older sister away from their mother and her cons. But right now, being one of the hostages, she knows that the only way to escape is to con the robbers.

I was grateful that this book turned out to be different from what I was expecting. I easily fell in love with Nora's character. She's brave, smart, and definitely a badass. Lee, her older sister, is remarkable too. She's a little scary but I definitely would love to have her as my sister. Iris (Nora's girlfriend) and Wes (Nora's bestfriend and ex-boyfriend) are both amazing characters too. I liked that we get to know each of them, the struggles and pain they've been through, how they survived and continue living their lives.

I thought the format of the book was clever and enjoyable to read. The author did a great job unfolding the story using both of the timelines. The past tells us about Nora's role in her mother's cons and the present shows us the events happening inside the bank as well as the escape plan. I thought the story was unique especially for a young adult novel.

I was really thankful that there's no love triangle and that the author didn't make the sexuality of Nora and Iris a big deal. Aside from the sapphic romance which was really adorable and sweet, I appreciated the mention of menstruation, endometriosis, and abortion.

This book is dark and humorous, heart-breaking and hopeful. It's definitely an entertaining and a page-turner read. A story of survival and healing, The Girls I've Been is definitely one of my favorite reads this year. Also, can we get a sequel? I really want to read more about these characters.

*There will be a Netflix adaptation of this book starring Millie Bobby Brown which is exciting because I can see her as Nora.
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This was good this was so good! 

I loved literally everything about it. The fast paced of the present timeline and then we get transported to Nora's past where we were able to live through her cons with her mother. I loved how fleshed out the characters were and the wholesome friendship and relationship. Wes+Iris+Nora+Lee best people oh my god. I also loved how the heavy topics were approached as well as seeing Nora actually trying to get over it (the whole chapter dedicated to her therapy was amazing). 

The ending!! The way Nora thought throughout the whole book like during the bank robbery, when she was a child trying to con people and then at the end trying to outsmart her mom and Raymond. I loved it!!

This was totally like a movie being played out and I was hooked!!
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Thank you so much @Putnambooks & @NetGalley for giving me this eARC in exchange for my honest and unbiased review (Release Date | 26 January 2021)

SYNOPSIS | Nora O'Malley is the daughter of a con artist who targets criminal men, except when her mother falls for the mark instead of conning him, Nora plans the ultimate con... escape. She tries to start over in a small town with her surviving older sister, however she finds herself in the middle of a bank robbery gone wrong and this time she is a hostage.

- I absolutely loved the portrayal of morally grey characters who are a little broken and a little battered but fighting for another day (TW for physical & sexual abuse)
- the fact that I want to hold Nora, Iris & Wes & tell them that everything is going to be okay
- that the story only takes place over a few hours & each chapter started with objects in her possession & a plan
- big fan of the bi representation

- dual timeline pulled me out of the intensity of the story at times
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Originally posted on Forever Young Adult on 2/10/21:

BOOK REPORT for The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Cover Story: Not Great
BFF Charm: 100% That B
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Past And Present Perfection
Bonus Factors: Tense Situations, Found Family
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award For Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: LYLAS

Content Warnings: The author has created a comprehensive content warning for her book on her blog, though beware there may be some slight spoilers. There is violence, abuse, and death, though nothing is shown in explicit detail. 

Cover Story: Not Great

Objectively I understand what these pieces of the cover are supposed to represent, but I dislike it as a whole. The disembodied hand makes me feel uncomfortable. If they had to go with this, I would’ve preferred they keep the hair-only cover. 

The Deal:

Nora is fully aware she has a lot of groveling to do after her ex-boyfriend-and-still-best-friend, Wes, walked in on her making out with their mutual friend and her new girlfriend, Iris. (She’d previously disagreed with Wes when he posited Iris was into Nora so she could avoid multiple tough conversations.) Hence the bacon doughnuts as a peace offering, leading to her arriving ten minutes late, and that brings us to the unfortunate moment when two asshats decide to rob the very bank Nora, Iris, and Wes are standing in.

But these two goons don’t realize who they’re dealing with, because Nora isn’t only Nora—she’s been Rebecca, Emily, Katie, Amanda. A bevy of girls raised by a smooth-talking grifter mother whose lasting legacy was to teach her daughter how to identify a mark’s weaknesses…and then ruthlessly go after them for everything they’ve got.

BFF Charm: 100% That B

Nora charmed her way under my skin and alternately awed me and scared me and made me want to stroke her hair. She has had an insanely effed up life, and I would not blame her heart for just shriveling up like a cold, dead fish to avoid any more traumatic experiences. But Nora’s taken five years of intensive therapy and unconditional love from her older sister, Lee (another true badass), and become a survivor. She’s not perfect; her experiences have given her a cynical view of people and a certain…moral fluidity, and often she’s slow to open up, to her detriment. But Nora’s got the smarts, the chutzpah, and the heart when it’s needed, and I would be so honored to be a part of her friendship inner circle. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

I feel like the synopsis may make Nora sound like a prick who was hiding her relationship with Iris from Wes because of cheating / lingering feelings, but please don’t judge her until you know the whole story. This isn’t your low-stakes high-school relationship drama-lama. Iris and Nora are in a committed relationship, and, y’all, they are so cute together. Iris is almost too good to be true, but she always skirts the right side of vintage pixie dream girl. I also appreciated the way Wes and Nora’s former relationship was treated, and how it made sense that they could still be so close.

Talky Talk: Past And Present Perfection

I feel like this book is what I wanted so many YA thrillers to be that inevitably disappoint me. There’s realistic reasons for Nora to be such a teenage badass (especially in a real-world setting; I feel I’m more forgiving in fantasy/sci-fi settings) and, unfortunately, it’s rooted in a lot of emotionally traumatic bullshit. Sharpe unfolds Nora’s backstory in between the action of the present-day hostage situation, and, in less deft hands, every switch from Then to Now could’ve completely killed the story’s momentum. I’ve seen it happen so many times. But Sharpe always knew when I needed a story break and kept me equally excited and invested in each storyline.

If all this (and the content warning) make The Girls I’ve Been sound extremely heavy…it’s not? Completely? Despite the traumas endured by Nora as she’s forced to be different people so her mother can run a sweetheart con on crooked men, Sharpe keeps from showing too much and making Nora’s past feel voyeuristic. It also helps that Nora has long since left that life, so we can at least be comforted in knowing that she’s turned out (relatively) okay. That, plus Nora’s introspection about how she deals with her issues, keeps an overall optimistic tone that helps to lighten the emotional load.

Google tells me this book has already been optioned by Netflix, and Millie Bobbie Brown is set to star. I just hope they get the right writers, although I feel like something will be lost in translation when you aren’t in Nora’s head experiencing things with her. 

Bonus Factor: Tense Situations

I love a good action / survivalist / disaster tale. Put the characters in a stressful situation and show me how they rise to the challenge. Let me have fun trying to figure out a good escape plan alongside them. Obviously I don’t wish it on anyone in REAL life, but in my books I love how something like a bank heist raises the stakes and ratchets up the tension.

Bonus Factor: Found Family 

While Lee actually IS Nora’s half-sibling, their journey to be together was not an easy one, and they only met a handful of times before Nora was twelve (Lee is almost twenty years older than Nora and escaped from her mother’s machinations long before Nora came about). Wes, Lee, and Nora have created a safe space for themselves and are slowly bringing Iris into the fold, and it’s just so lovely to read about everything they’ve overcome and how they’ve still managed to find peace together.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award For Awful Parenting 

Nora’s mom, Abby, is The Woooorst. She’s groomed not one, but TWO daughters who trusted her to help her in her schemes and is completely fine with throwing them to pedophiles, abusers, and in completely dangerous situations to get what SHE wants. You learn early on she’s in prison and that Nora helped put her there, but unless they threw her in solitary and threw away the key…I’m not sure it’s enough justice for my vengeful heart. There's plenty of other bad parenting I won't get into here, but you'll see it.

Relationship Status: LYLAS

I feel like anything I could do for you, Book, would pale in comparison to what Lee did for Nora. Maybe we won’t be as high-stakes siblings, but you impressed me with your strength and heart, and I want only the best for you. Let me have your back in whatever way you need!

Literary Matchmaking:


• So tonally this book seems way different, but if you’re interested in reading about another hostage situation to get your blood pumping, check out The Girl in the Wall (and ignore the horrible cover which is not indicative of its insides). 

• Ally Carter’s Heist Society characters are teenage criminal masterminds, and while I personally found them way less believable than Nora and her skills, you may not have as much of a hang-up about that as I do. 

• If you’re in the mood for a book about a girl overcoming tough odds that goes a little darker, try the Printz honor winner, Stolen, by Lucy Christopher. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Girls I’ve Been is available now.
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this was a quick and effortless read, but it deals with some heavy topics (in a really well done way!) so if you're not up for that, this is not the right book for you.

nora is a likeable character even though she's kind of morally grey. her past is quite essential to the story in the present and i liked getting to know more about her and the way she was raised in the flashbacks.

the bi representation was great! i loved iris and the way she talked about periods cups! more of that please! (and maybe make it all gender inclusive)

it's definitely quite unique and i've never read a YA thriller like this before. it definitely shows that YA can deal with heavy topics in a way that is accessible for many.

tw: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, violence
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TWs: blood, violence (gun, knife and grenade as well), child abuse (both verbal and physical), physical and verbal abuse, child rape and molestation (nothing explicit), fire and murder.

2021 has been a year of mediocre reads for me so far (How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories being an exception), so I had really been hoping that The Girls I've Been would be the book that stopped me from going into a reading slump. It's one of my most anticipated releases of 2021, and it did not disappoint. If anything, it surpassed my expectations, and is the latest addition to my list of favorite books.

The Girls I've Been follows Nora O'Malley, a former con artist as she, her girlfriend, and ex-boyfriend are taken hostage during a bank robbery gone wrong. In order to survive, she has to take things into her own hands - by conning the robbers until she can get her complicated trio out of danger - unless she ends up dead first.

This book was such a wild ride, not only do we have the primary plot, but as the story continues we get to see flashbacks of Nora's childhood, and how it shaped her into the person she is during the robbery. It sounds like it might be a little too much at once, but it really isn't. The flashbacks tie perfectly into the story, shaping it into something even more high stakes than it would have otherwise been. I loved getting to see how Nora used to con people as a child, and the way she was quick to think on her feet. One of my favorite parts of the book was the found family aspect. They've all got such unique relationships with one another, but I adored the way she, Wes and Iris were all so close with one another despite their unusual history.

I don't want to say too much about the book, because I feel like it's better to go into it blind, but I absolutely ADORED The Girls I've Been. Please, please, please do yourself a favor and pick this book up. Give it out as gifts, donate copies to your library, share this emotionally charged thriller. I know I can't wait to get my physical copy in the mail so I can start my re-read.
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3.5 stars

This was a really tense story in the present-day, but the time jumps didn’t totally work for me. It lessened the tension for me of the present-day story, and I get that it was giving me some insight and filling the blanks in re: Nora’s life, but I struggled with keeping my reading momentum going for this one due to the format.

That said, the story is pretty great, and I love the dark and grittiness of Tess Sharpe’s characters, particularly the girls.

I think Courtney Summers fans who haven’t read anything by Tess Sharpe would really love her books. Recommended!
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Tessa Sharpe and her morally dubious queer characters never disappoint! Tessa Sharpe's respectful handling of trauma and abuse is nuanced and shows care and love for her characters that I can feel through the pate. The dark sides of trauma healing and survival are portrayed with grim honesty and well rounded perspective. The dual timelines were incredibly well done and kept you guessing at the slow reveal of the suspense. Incredible book!
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