Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2022) Featured Review of The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

Cover Art

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers / Penguin Random House
Publication Date: January 26, 2021
ISBN: 978-0593353806

Nora O’Malley is a seventeen-year-old trying to have a normal life in a small town with her older sister, a private detective. Nobody knows that she spent her childhood helping her mother con wealthy men all over the country and is in hiding from the worst of them all – the dangerous man her mother attempted to con and wound up marrying. When an awkward morning at the bank with her ex-boyfriend Wes and current girlfriend Iris is interrupted by a bank heist going terribly wrong, Nora will have to use her skills from her past life to get herself and others out alive.

The Girls I’ve Been works on multiple levels; it’s a thriller, tightly-plotted and relentlessly intense, but it’s also a deeply emotional book, with flashbacks to Nora’s younger years, playing the different girls her mother needed in order to manipulate her current mark. The core of the story is Nora’s trauma, grief, and guilt, and her slow healing with the support of the people who love her. The relationships between Nora, Wes, and Iris add some conflict to the plot, but the three care deeply about each other and operate more like each other’s chosen family than teenagers in a dramatic love triangle. The writing is as spare and direct as Nora herself, the immediacy of the present tense narrative unspooling like an action movie. All major characters are assumed white, Nora is bisexual, and Nora’s older sister Lee had a past relationship with a woman.  

Give to fans of dark, emotionally complex thrillers and survival stories like those by Tiffany D. Jackson, Courtney Summers, April Henry, and Mindy McGinnis. With a quick hook into a suspenseful story and a Netflix adaptation on the way, The Girls I’ve Been will appeal to a wide cross section of teens and adults looking for an engrossing read. 

Megan Jackson (she/her)

Other Nominated Titles

  • The Initial Insult by Mindy McGinnis (February 23, 2021)
  • Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (January 12, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the field nomination form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will use that list of nominated titles to select a final list and Top Ten. The previous years’ lists are also made available on The Hub.