Cover of The Girls I’ve Been: red background with a black wig and a disembodied hand holding a set of keys

About the Book

Title: The Girls I’ve Been
Published: 2021
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

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

Voices: Bisexual, White, Ablebodied, Cis Girl

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

BFF charm with Lizzo's face.

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

Scene from Speed: Keanu Reeves holding a gun at Dennis Hopper, who is holding Jeff Daniels hostage with a gun

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 

Characters Jen Jack and Grams from Dawson's Creek standing together

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 

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

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

The Girl In The Wall

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).

Heist Society (Heist Society #1)

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.

Stolen

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.

Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.