REVIEW: The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
First things first I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder Children’s Books, who accepted my request to read The Girls I’ve Been via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Tess Sharpe’s Far From You is one of my favourite YA contemporary novels of all time, so it won’t come as a surprise to you that The Girls I’ve Been featured on my most anticipated 2021 releases list.
The Girls I’ve Been follows Nora, the daughter of a con-woman, as she is caught up in a bank robbery along with her ex-boyfriend and her new girlfriend. Nora knows the day is going to be awkward – Wes caught her and Iris kissing last night, and she’s been purposefully keeping the relationship a secret from him – so she decides to swing by and pick up some donuts on her way to the bank, where the three teens are depositing money that they raised for a local animal shelter.
Unfortunately, the donuts have a lot to answer for. They make Nora late. If Nora hadn’t been late they would have already deposited the money and left the bank before the hostage situation occurred, and they wouldn’t find themselves in a fight for survival against two armed bank robbers.
There are so many things that I absolutely loved about The Girls I’ve Been.
Let’s start with Nora.
The main character, Nora has had one hell of an upbringing. Having a con-artist for a mother means that Nora was trained to become whatever her mother needed: pliant and perfect, meek and mild, silent and subdued.
The majority of the story is told during the bank robbery – counting up the minutes that the characters have been held hostage and the different assets that they find themselves with – but Tess Sharpe smoothly weaves in chapters from Nora’s past, introducing us to all of the girls she’s been throughout the years. My heart was breaking for the little girl who would do anything to please her mother, and it just broke further throughout as Nora came to the realisation that her mother’s work would always mean more to her than her daughter.
There is so much I could say about how much I loved Nora’s character. She prioritises the safety of her friends above everything, even her own wellbeing. She keeps a lot of secrets because of the nature of her upbringing, but isn’t afraid to confront her demons through therapy. She’s a 100% badass, and I’m desperate for Tess Sharpe to write a sequel because I want to read more of Nora (and I only finished this book two days ago!).
Then there’s Iris. Obsessed with vintage clothing, Iris may look girly and soft on the outside but she has nerves of steel.
Suffering with endometriosis, Iris is in agony for much of their time as hostages, but she isn’t afraid to use her period to her advantage. Iris taunting the bank robber with the fact that she really needs to empty her menstrual cup will go down as one of my favourite scenes of all time. I always love seeing periods in fiction – they’re a huge part of life if you have a vagina, and it’s unrealistic to believe that nothing exciting would happen during at least one character’s time of the month – but it felt so natural and realistic that it took me a while to actually think “Oh my god! Casual period discussion!”.
Iris and Nora’s relationship is a complicated one – Iris knows hardly anything about Nora’s real past, while she’s also keeping secrets of her own – and I wish we’d been able to see more of them. Obviously there’s a bank robbery going on, so Tess Sharpe has much bigger fish to fry, but I would have been happier if we’d had some more chapters set in Nora’s recent past. We get a lot more of the relationship between Wes and Nora than we do the relationship between Iris and Nora, but I think if they’d been focused on a little bit more then they would have ended up being one of my favourite bookish couples for sure.
That brings us to Wes. The son of the mayor, Wes has an abusive home life that leads to him practically moving in with Nora and her sister, Lee.
I absolutely loved the description of Wes and Nora as Franken-friends. Wes finds out about Nora’s past while they are dating. Her secrets and lies are too much for him to take, leading to the end of their romantic relationship, but they manage to cobble together a friendship which Wes affectionately refers to as the Franken-friends.
It would be great if friendships between exes could be normalised in YA. In my lived experience, people are far more likely to stay friends with their exes than to never speak to them ever again, but that explosive end to a relationship is still the one most commonly portrayed in YA literature. It’s something so small, yet so effective (which can also be said about the casual period discussions!). Tess Sharpe has a brilliant way of making her stories feel realistic, even though the bank robbery/hostage situation is an uncommon inclusion in YA.
That certainly upped the pace, though. I flew through the first quarter of this novel and found it very difficult to put down, so make sure to pick this book up when you’re able to set aside quite a chunk of time for reading! Don’t make the same mistake I did and start reading right before bed, because the situation that the three friends find themselves in definitely gets your heart racing.
This is the second novel by Tess Sharpe that I’ve read, and I think she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. I’m always going to have a soft spot for books with bisexual rep, but Sharpe makes the sexuality a part of her characters and not their defining characteristic which I highly appreciate. These are characters who are comfortable with their sexuality. They don’t feel the need to come out or to justify their feelings for each other, and I think this quiet acceptance of their feelings for each other and who they are makes Sharpe’s characters much more believable.
My only complaint – and the only reason that I didn’t give this book five stars – was because I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It feels as though it tells either too much or not enough of the story. If the story had finished a couple of chapters earlier it would have been a five star, and if the story had been extended for another few chapters it would have been a five star, but because of where it ended I was left feeling a bit dissatisfied.
That being said, this is still a book that I’m going to reread over and over again, and I’ll definitely be purchasing a copy as soon as it is released. I already can’t wait to see what Tess Sharpe writes next.
Thanks for reading,