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.
Book: The Girls I’ve Been
Published: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 26th, 2021
Age Range: 14 – 18
Penguin Teen kindly sent me a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.