Bank Robberies and Identity: My The Girls I've Been Review

I'm a sucker for a good YA thriller, and I've read so many that I feel like I've seen it all at this point. But sometimes you encounter a book that blows all your expectations out of the water -- and that's what I'm going to talk about today!

Book Title: The Girls I've Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Publisher/Year: Putnam, 2021
Genre: Thriller
Number of Pages (According to Goodreads): 368
My Rating: 5 out of 5

Book description (from Goodreads):

A slick, twisty YA page-turner about the daughter of a con artist who is taken hostage in a bank heist.

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…

The description basically says it all -- the daughter of a con artist now has to con her way out of a hostage situation with nothing but her wits. The concept is amazing enough, but it's the execution where this book really shines.

Strap in, and Keep Your Hands and Feet Inside the Ride

Y’all. The writing in this book GRABS you by the throat and does NOT let go! Tess Sharpe has such an immediate and compelling voice that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. The tension in every scene is on point, sprinkled with well-placed observations about what it means to be a young woman (specifically a young queer woman) in modern society.

Nora is a whip-smart main character who’s fully fascinating to read about. She's been through extensive trauma at a very young age, and she's under no illusion that a lot of her skills came from experiences that no child should ever have. The book's themes are quite heavy, but I thought they were handled really well, and they made me think while I was also having a great time with the plot.

Flashback Friday

Books that jump between the past and the present tend to be a little hit-or-miss for me, but this one was DEFINITELY a hit, largely because of how good the writing is. In the chapters dealing with Nora’s backstory, I was completely gripped even though I knew Nora would survive in the end.

There was a lot of background information that you don't learn until quite late in the book, but it was written in such a way that it felt like an interesting mystery to be revealed, rather than making me confused by the lack of context. I found this technique to be a really effective way of telling a complex story while keeping the tension ramped to the max!

Trigger and Content Warnings for The Girls I've Been

The author lists the following warnings for this book on her website:

Violence & Abuse: violence related to a bank robbery, violence related to surviving domestic violence, children and teens in peril, surviving psychological & emotional abuse, surviving parental abuse (psychological, emotional and physical), disclosure of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in a therapy setting. 

Assault: verbal threats, physical assault (physical intimidation, hand to hand fighting, bullying, gunshot and stabbing wounds, arson, fire, explosions, references to dismemberment) 

Death: murder 

Misc: accidental cannabis ingestion (aka: someone eats a few pot cookies before anyone can alert them as to what’s in it), discussion of menstruation, discussion of reproductive health, choice and justice, references to living with chronic pain, menstrual hemorrhaging and endometriosis, mentions of a car accident that puts passengers in the hospital, discussion of a parent with a gambling addiction. 

Final Thoughts

This book truly gripped me from the start to the finish. With a pace like that, is it any wonder that this book is getting a Netflix adaptation starring Millie Bobby Brown?? Yeah, that’s right — you have to read it now so you can say you were a fan before it was cool.

Thanks to Penguin Teen for the e-ARC of this book! The Girls I've Been comes out on January 26th, so if this sounds like something you'd like, go ahead and swipe your copy now :D

Barnes and Noble | | Amazon | Goodreads

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