[Book Review] The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

As the daughter of a con artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when her mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

My cat Lil Bean asleep next to a copy of The Girls I’ve Been // Tess Sharpe

Told in a real-time account of a bank robbery interspersed with segments of memory in which we gradually learn more and more about Nora’s past and the actions she’s been forced to perform, The Girls I’ve Been is an engaging, edge-of-your-seat tale of survival and resilience. Nora has been trained to con, yet she must take that training and use it to ensure her survival again and again.

Nora is such an engaging character. She is multifaceted, and her two friends, Wes and Iris, are not stock side characters but full-fledged protagonists of their own who were kind enough to support Nora. What I love most about this book includes the inclusion of endometriosis (with Iris) and honest accounts of the trauma caused by abuse and violence. While the book is highly climactic, no elements of the story ever felt remotely contrived for the sake of shock factor.

In “A note from Tess,” which appears at the end of the book, Sharpe is thoughtful to note that while Iris refers to her endometriosis as a “condition,” it is in fact a serious disease that affects many women, and “Iris is simplifying for effect.” I love Sharpe’s note of clarification, and I think she did an amazing job of incorporating awareness on the disease in her book in such a fun way. Sharpe perfectly navigates that paradoxical balance between being overtly didactic and reducing a serious matter to the level of satire or farce; the appearance of Iris’s endometriosis does not subtract from the quality of the novel at all, and curious readers are encouraged to look into the disease.

This novel deals with many difficult subjects such as domestic abuse, molestation, gaslighting, psychological manipulation, and extreme violence. Yet, again, Sharpe does so in an intelligent and thoughtful manner which avoids reducing these important issues to mere plot devices or shock factor elements in the novel. Each instance of violence is later addressed, and the psychological implications of not only bearing witness to, but being forced to participate in, such violence is evaluated by Nora, as well as by Iris and Wes, and Nora’s sister Lee.

All things considered, this book is a five star for me, and it is one of my favorite reads this year. Also, they’re turning this book into a movie starring Millie Bobby Brown, and I can’t wait to see it!

PUBLICATION DEETS: Putnam, January 26, 2021, 356 pages

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