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The Girls I've Been

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

Nora O'Malley is a lot of things. A sister. An ex. A secret girlfriend. Kind of crooked, but reformed... somewhat.

Nora O'Malley's been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up her mother's protege. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years she'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've all been inseparable for months, Wes didn't know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised together. It's a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly.

Because #3: right after they get in the bank, two guys start robbing it.

But they have no idea who they're really holding hostage.

The robbers are trouble. Nora's something else entirely.

356 pages, Paperback

First published January 26, 2021

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About the author

Tess Sharpe

16 books1,234 followers
I do not read my goodreads mail, but if you'd like to contact me the best way to reach me is tess(at)tess-sharpe.com

Born in a mountain cabin to a punk rocker mother, Tess Sharpe grew up in rural California. She lives deep in the backwoods with a pack of dogs and a growing cabal of slightly feral cats.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,678 reviews
Profile Image for daph pink ♡ .
884 reviews3,026 followers
March 4, 2021
Okay so like Millie bobby brown is gonna play the role of Nora in netflix adaptation .

I am screaming.

Omg when I was reading I was thinking that this could be a really good for a movie adaptation and they like already announced everything.

⤵Detailed review

4* I was here for morally grey bi girls and I experienced so much more * stars

Welcome to chemistry class of Daph Pink , today we will learn the formula for the book The Girls I 've been (take notes students)

bank heist + dark past mystery + beautiful friendship + a sapphic main relationship + mother/daughter con team relationship, witty remarks + morally grey characters

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim. But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.”


Well I was so intrigued when I read the the title and instantly my mind started making all the possible assumptions , what could it mean? Trust me it's worth finding.

Let's dive into the detailed review ( in gun points )

🔫 Plot

“Girls like me, we prepare for the storm.”

- The story is all about a survival story , its about going through worst moments and coming out strong but bruised and ready to face anything. The story jumps back and forth in timeline simultaneously telling us the present story and what happened with Nora 4 years back. At the beginning of each current event chapter, it told how long they had been held captive, what tools they had at their aid, and what their working plan was. It reveals little bits and pieces of Nora’s life to the reader without being info dumpy or too heavy. This book is full of quotes and moments that will bring tears to your eyes, that will make you scream in rage at the unfairness of the world towards woman/girls in general. This book has a little of something for everyone, and paired with the incredible plot line that follows a teen con artist—well it’s hard to think of a reason not to read it.Sharpe also meticulously intertwines the complexity of Nora’s relationships now and how they are affected by her past, making the book every bit as much a drama as it is an action thriller.  

🔫 Writing

-The pacing of this story is good. The chapters are quick, and the dialogue and story are as well. The authors writing skill add a specific tone to the book which is only seen in Sharpe's books. I think the author did a great job of balancing the dark and heavy parts of this book with the humous and thrilling bits. let's all take some time to appreciate author for mentioning Iris's condition of endometriosis and how she had an abortion in past plus Nora's therapy which is usually missing from y/a and is important to discuss.

🔫 Impressively characterized

- Nora is one hell of a character , she is someone you don't wanna meet alone in dark alley but at the same time fall in love with. Beware she is a con artist , kinda scary but totally cool and 100 % badass. The depth of Nora's strength and resilience is incredible

Wes and Iris are both awesome characters, and they have their own backgrounds and depth of character to bring to the story, but my favourite side character has to be Nora’s sister who is fantastic and a little scary.

I loved there friendship and how they were all victims and survivors of their own stories.It would be great if friendships between exes could be normalised in YA. I enjoyed the sapphic romance but I was disappointed as there were more discussion of Wes and Nora relationship rather than Nora and Iris .

🔫 Cinematic thriller

-I thought it was really fast paced and engaging. As the plans that Nora, Iris and Wes keep coming up with start to run out or don’t work out and the stakes are heightened the novel becomes really intense which makes it even more of a page turner.The thrilling aspect of the story would be enough alone, but the emotional and deep parts of this story take it to another level for me. They are that boost from entertaining, to entertaining and impactful for me.

🔫 Ending

- the main reason why I didn't gave the book 5 stars, it sort of felt incomplete or more than required. Like the ending was sudden which I am not a huge fan of.

This book was not quite what I expected it to be, but I still enjoyed it!!
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,079 reviews17.2k followers
June 14, 2022
Here’s what’s going on in The Girls I’ve Been: A girl gets trapped in a bank robbery with her two friends. But this isn’t your typical survival story, and she’s no ordinary target. She manipulates. She plays games. And she’ll stop at nothing to come out of this not just alive, but on top. How’d she get this way? Well, that’s for her to know and you to find out.

The book excels in terms of quality of the writing, in terms of suspense, and in terms of character work, but the latter two each thrive off the backbone of a much more key dynamic: the pacing of information. Tess Sharpe excels at holding back just enough and giving just enough that we gasp at every page, but still need more.

“Dual timelines in a suspense YA book done well” is a phrase I was not expecting to be using in any reviews anytime soon, but here we are: These are some of the best backstory chapters I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. Every backstory chapter adds to the story, develops the characters, or plays up intrigue. By a hundred pages in, you can’t get enough.

It’s been a while since a suspense novel has messed with my head like this, has kept me up at night, just wanting to read one more chapter. When I finally got near the end, I at one point squeaked so loudly I almost woke up my roommate. Ridiculous? Yes. But you’ll understand.

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Profile Image for may ➹.
463 reviews1,853 followers
January 30, 2021
Tess Sharpe and her morally grey bi girl agenda never disappoint!

—★—

The Girls I’ve Been follows Nora, the daughter of a con artist, who gets caught in the middle of a bank heist with her girlfriend Iris and ex-boyfriend-but-still-friend Wes. Tess Sharpe’s books are always cutting, both her characters and her writing sharp and smart, and this is especially true in this novel. I love her portrayal of messy, morally grey girls, a little broken and battered but still fighting to survive. The way she writes trauma and abuse in The Girls I’ve Been is heartbreaking and nuanced, and I appreciate how Sharpe never shies away from the messier sides of survival and treats characters with so much grace and respect.

The world is tilting again. But I have people to hold on to. People to fight for. And that is so different than just fighting for yourself.

This book does a beautiful job of showing healing with other people who have been through similar pain, but I of course was engrossed in Nora’s story particularly. She has several past identities who all “taught” her something in their own ways, and how she lives now was shaped by her mother and every man they conned. She is trying to figure out how exactly she fits into the world, a struggle we can all relate to but something even more difficult for her as someone who was never allowed to exist as herself and was always forced into another girl’s identity. So many parts of her story felt like a punch in the gut, but it only made her growth throughout the short time span of the book all the more compelling and moving to read.

What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me a victim.
But I made me stronger. I made me a survivor.

I was also impressed by the execution of dual timelines in this book—you are kept on your toes as the past slowly unravels, and there’s no drop in suspense between the various timelines. The main plot point of the book (the bank heist) also only lasts a few hours, but it doesn’t feel dragged out or boring. I think one of the main reasons I don’t particularly care for thrillers in comparison to other genres is because there is a larger emphasis on plot and suspense/mystery rather than characters, but The Girls I’ve Been is a delightful combination of both. This is only the second YA thriller I’ve read from her, but I think Sharpe is truly a master of the genre like no other.

“This isn’t about what you want!”
“But it is,” I say, and there’s the truth, the one I’ve created for myself.

There’s something very special about this book, in the way that it presents characters who aren’t truly okay but are slowly learning to be. Terrible things happen to them, especially by the hands of men, but there’s still a sense of hope. It’s not false, unrealistic optimism, but a quiet, fervent belief that they have their own identity and agency to reclaim, certainly impacted by the trauma they faced but not defined by it. It is this that is so powerful about The Girls I’ve Been—and particularly the ending—and makes it so memorable. This is truly a book I won’t forget, and I couldn’t recommend it more.

—★—

:: representation :: bi MC, wlw LI with endometreosis

:: content warnings :: physical abuse, psychological abuse, (child) sexual abuse (not explicit), parental abuse, domestic abuse, murder, violence, depictions of trauma, depictions of blood [more details]


Thank you to Penguin Teen for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This did not affect my opinion in any way.

All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
Profile Image for Katie Colson.
604 reviews5,298 followers
August 25, 2022
4.5⭐️

It isn’t often I enjoy a YA this much. But this sh*t SLAPPED!!! I can’t wait for the adaptation with Millie Bobby Brown.
I adored the characters and queer representation. I loved how intense their feelings were but it was leveled by how logical they went about expressing them. It was so mature for their age but not unbelievably so. They were just kids who had seen too much and become self dependent because of it. It was so exciting to read. I loved every second of it.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,040 reviews464 followers
December 13, 2021
Standing ovation for this deadly Con Game Masterpiece: 10 out of 5 Stars!



I could not put this one down!! I am still panting from the non-stop tension and action in this bank heist gone wrong!



Little did the robbers know that Nora was a superhero con artist extraordinaire! Nora rubbed ALL of her enemies' noses in the dirt - with a lot of help from her two equally talented friends. I love Tess Harper's bold as brass heroines. Wes (former boyfriend, current Franken-friend) and Iris (current girlfriend) were her die-hard comrades in arms. They are friends to the death - literally almost! - despite the fact that none of them could ever truly hope to know the real Nora.



Nora's mother had made her assume so many different aliases and personalities that the original Nora was lost in the shuffle. There are some really bad people in this story, not the least of whom is Nora's own mother, Abby.



There are so many fabulous one-liners in this novel: Tess Sharpe is the Queen of glib dialogue. Nora constantly cracked me up, even at the very worst moments. It is a testament to Tess Sharpe's abilities that she made the "former boyfriend, current girlfriend slash three amigos" relationship work seamlessly.



What an incredible story! I am not surprised this novel got optioned for a movie. Stellar writing with non-stop action - what's not to love?!!! Can't wait for the movie!

Profile Image for tappkalina.
628 reviews384 followers
August 4, 2022
After dnf'ing almost everything I've started in the last two weeks and feeling like there's something wrong with me and I just can't enjoy reading anymore, I'm proud to say, this book didn't only put me out of my misery, but I've found a new all time favorite.

Ususally I'm hesitant to pick up books that take place in a few days, because everything is rushed between the characters (for example the romance), but since these characters already had established relationship with each other, it was okay. Especially since we could see scenes from their past.

Neil Josten from the All for The Game series is my all time favorite main character, and Nora reminded me of him. She was just as amazing, strong, smart, mysterious and badass.
And the friendship, the found family aspect between Nora, Wes, Iris and Lee? Oh lord. Despite having a dark and sad plot, they made this book a safe, warm space for me.

Also, if you are tired of the fact that every sapphic book is about two soft girls in a soft relationship, this is candy for you. These girls are kicking ass.
July 1, 2021
”There is no normal. There is just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal”.

Ya saben que yo no soy muy de thrillers, pero este me pareció súper adictivo e interesante. Aquí nos encontramos con Nora, la hija de una artista del engaño, que ha ido con su novia y su exnovio a depositar dinero de una colecta al banco. Sin embargo, de un momento a otro, llegan unos atracadores, cierran todo y toman a las personas que estaban dentro como rehenes, incluyéndola a ella y sus amigos. A partir de ese momento, Nora va a empezar a pensar en cómo salir viva de allí pues, por lo que puede observar, los atracadores no tienen ni la menor intención de que eso sea un atraco y una toma de rehenes pacífica. Lo bueno es que Nora no es una chica normal, no. Nora ha crecido y vivido su vida aprendiendo de la mejor, su madre, teniendo muchísimos nombres y perfeccionando el arte del engaño y las estafas, así que esas serán sus mejores armas para salir de allí con sus amigos en una pieza.

Creo que lo mejor de este libro es que la narración va cambiando del momento del atraco al pasado de Nora (y todas las chicas que ha sido), así que vamos entendiendo poco a poco de dónde sacó la mente tan ingeniosa que tiene, cómo aprendió un montón de tácticas de escape y, sobre todo, nos va revelando todas las capas y las diferentes identidades que la han ido moldeando como el arma que es. Además, como obviamente no podemos olvidarnos de que los protagonistas son adolescentes, el drama romántico está también a la orden del día. Ya se podrán imaginar cómo ha sido la vida amorosa de Nora cuando en realidad nunca ha sido ella, sino la chica del momento que su madre necesitaba para sus engaños. Tener una relación con alguien cuando ni siquiera puedes hablarles de tu pasado ni de realmente quién eres tiene un precio alto.

Como les digo, The Girls I’ve Been es un libro que se devora y que no puedes parar de leer tanto porque quieres saber si salen vivos de ese atraco como por que las vidas pasadas y las otras identidades de Nora son absolutamente fascinantes. El mundo en el que se ha movido desde pequeña es tan turbio y oscuro que, claro, por morbo, es imposible soltar el libro.

El final, que es algo que muchos thrillers no logran que sea emocionante, fue espectacular en este caso. No sólo se resuelve la situación de rehenes y atraco (no les diré cómo), sino que todo va muchísimo más allá y, de repente, el presente y el pasado se unen como un choque de trenes. ¡Ah! Y me acabo de enterar de que esto tendrá película de Netflix, así que guay.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
673 reviews1,029 followers
September 25, 2022
A super quick and addicting read.

Set over the course of only a few hours, Nora and her two best friends enter a bank and find themselves caught up in a heist.

Held at gunpoint, secrets are spilled and Nora finally finds herself having to share her past with her new girlfriend.

Nora’s mother was a con artist, constantly shifting identity and taking Nora along with her. She would do anything for the mark, even at Nora’s expense.

She has many previous names and personalities. She must admit what this means for her and how she can move forward.

A wonderful combination of nail biting thrills and heart warming moments.
Profile Image for theresa.
279 reviews4,271 followers
February 20, 2021
The Girls I’ve Been is a gripping, twisty thriller unlike anything I’ve ever read. Taking place over the course of only a few hours, Sharpe takes her readers on a high-stakes journey through past, present and six very different girls.

Nora O’Malley, our main character, is truly the star of the show. She’s a morally grey badass ex con artist who would die for those she loves, what more could you want? The narrative style created a real connection with her and was both effortless and enjoyable to read. I loved seeing how Nora’s past influenced her, both helping and hurting her. Sharpe handled discussions of trauma, recovery and therapy with incredible sensitivity while refusing to sugar coat the horrific nature of Nora’s past. I also adored Nora’s chosen family and her relationships with them: her sister, Lee; her girlfriend, Iris and her ex-boyfriend turned ‘franken-friend’, Wes. Through these characters, The Girls I’ve Been touches on other forms of trauma and their impact, as well as medical conditions through Iris’s endometriosis and sexuality through a bisexual main character and sapphic main relationship.

This book is intense. Sharpe expertly wields a dual timeline to maximise tension and explore Nora’s past identities. I had worried that so much flashing back would take me out of the main story but the chapters from Nora’s past perspective actually ended up creating even more suspense and left me unable to put the book down. The structure of short chapters flashing between past, present and reflective asides worked really well to aid the development of Nora’s character. This book is just so cleverly crafted and unique, with the stakes just getting higher at every twist and turn.

I really don’t have any complaints about this book, the only thing I would have liked is to spend a bit more time with Wes and Iris in the present. We get quite a bit of backstory and development of their relationships in the past and I’d have liked to see this continue into the present a bit more, partly just because Iris and Nora were adorable together and I wanted to see more of their relationship.

Overall, The Girls I’ve Been is an utterly unique book. Sharpe combines all the typical elements of a high-stakes thriller with a nuanced look at trauma and the power of choosing your own family, all while exploring the question, ‘what makes you who you are?’.

content warnings

I also talk about books here: youtube | instagram | twitter

*eARC received in exchange for an honest review via Netgalley*
Profile Image for Susan - on semi hiatus.
410 reviews109 followers
April 3, 2021
Personality Clash

I'm always on the lookout for something off the well traveled path and this appeared to fit the bill.

Nora couldn't have chosen a more inopportune time to make a bank deposit. She hadn't been inside but for an instant when two young men attempt to rob it and hold everyone hostage.

The timing is even worse for them however, because Nora has inconspicuous coping skills.

The bank robbery scenes played out minute by minute similar to a military countdown with a precise timeline. We experience the heist along side Nora in a mad cap style with the main character's thoughts voiced between the action.

I was intrigued by the plot, but the execution fell short for me. There was so much telling in between the bank sequences and the back stories were mostly narrated, not really lived out.

So many others loved this so I'm in the minority here.

Thank you to my local library Sno-Isles for the loan!
Profile Image for Charmel.
178 reviews397 followers
January 14, 2022
Four stars for my first book of 2022, not bad!

“I was raised for a kind of slaughter. But I grew into a huntress instead. One who always hits her target. No matter what.”


The Girls I've Been was interesting. It has a uniquely interesting premise, plot, and characters. The book centers around Nora, the daughter of a con artist who was taken hostage in a bank heist. To survive along with the other hostages, she must pull a con to escape.

Other than that, this twisty YA thriller also talks about hard and sensitive topics such as the aching journey of surviving abuse. It really amazed me how Sharpe could fit all these themes in a 300 paged book.

“If you can’t beat ’em, you join ’em.
Or, in this case, you con ’em.”


As I said, the plot was interesting. It kept me on edge every time I read, it was action-packed, entertaining, and fast-paced. The writing style was also remarkable here. Although I didn't enjoy the confusing and messy time jumps, Sharpe still managed to showcase the raw emotions and hardships the main character has been through.

Our main character, before becoming Nora O'Malley, had been a lot of girls; Rebeca, Samantha, Haley, Katie, and Ashley. She's a girl who escaped, who learned from her past, who survived, and is surviving.

The only downside of her character for me is that at a very young age, she has done some pretty unrealistic things. But pretty much, she was a well-written character with true flaws and original quality.

I loved the side characters. Their chemistry with Nora was *chefs kiss*. Wes was her ex and now he and Nora have the best platonic friendship or what we call the Franken-friends (see, men and women can have a deep bond and just be friends!). Iris is the badass girlfriend of Nora and she's one of the strongest fictional girls I know. All these shared pain and backstories have made them heal together, become stronger together, and live life through roller coasters together. The sweetest found family!

“This we share. Scars and knowledge and broken safety that was never really there in the first place, because we were born to bad apples.”


I don't want to say that this book is not your typical YA thriller but this book *really* is a unique and nontypical YA thriller.

morally grey bi main character, the best platonic m/f relationship, found family, mental health representation, and lots of cons. all these in this book!!!

ps: plss check the TRIGGER WARNINGS before u read! <3

pre-review:
laughing at myself because i thought this was gonna be my last read of 2021 🤡🤡🤡
Profile Image for gauri.
178 reviews379 followers
November 30, 2021
this book is like be gay do crimes but also [bisexual chaos], [sweetest found family], [best m/f friendship], [lots of cons], [surviving abuse and coming out stronger] and its so good!!
Profile Image for alaska.
216 reviews419 followers
March 19, 2022
my therapist: so, basically, you've been crying and screaming over one book...for an entire week?

me, obviously not okay: you look at me like i'm being dramatic???

i am, in fact, not being dramatic. this is tess sharpe's power, okay? i mean, what do you expect me to do when you give me a young adult thriller that has it all, including:

- a unique, intricately plotted story
- powerful messages, writing and ending
- strong female characters
- complicated backstories
- morally grey goodness
- amazing character dynamics
- friends who'd literally die for one another
- the best platonic relationship (m/f)
- the best romantic relationship (f/f)
- BICONS!!!!! this book better become bisexual culture

so?? what did you expect?? exactly, a lot of crying and screaming!

in all seriousness though, the girls i've been is a masterpiece and genuinely one of the best books i've ever read. words will never be able to capture my love for this novel.

but screaming about it on the internet might come close enough!!! so, well, READ IT!!!!

also, mom, if you're reading this: i didn't actually talk to my therapist about this. we both know that if i started talking about this book with her, we'd have to pay here more because i just wouldn't shut up.
Profile Image for Katerina  Kondrenko.
498 reviews825 followers
January 29, 2022
5.5 out of 10

ревью на русском/review in russian

I'm struggling with the genre this book is written under. It's a mystery, contemporary, thriller, romance, queer story, heist... As if the story can't decide which way to take for good and tries all genres it can.

Nora is the main character and the daughter of a con artist. She ran away from her mother to her older sister at the age of 12. Now she's 17-18 y.o., has psychological trauma, and is bisexual.

Lee is Nora's older sister, she is already about 40, also experienced several cons with her mother, but ran away from home and started a new life by founding a detective agency. She's lesbian.

Wes is Nora's classmate and ex-boyfriend, the mayor's son, his father brutally beat him until Nora found some damaging information and threatened him with it. At the moment he's passionate about another girl.

Iris is Nora's current girlfriend, also a classmate who loves vintage, musicals, retro, her parents are divorced. In the past, there was an abortion (unexpected pregnancy from some guy) and her abuse from her father.

Abby's Nora's mother, a con artist driven by love for a psychopath.

Raymond is that psychopath who threatens to kill Nora even from prison.

The characters themselves are not developed well and deeply, but the relationships between them are, and through the prism of these relationships, something can be said about the characters too.

Interesting chapter structure, but it's rather fancy than handy. The plot is confusing in places, it's not clear what exactly happened to the heroine and her sister, was it rape or just an attempt, no one needs details, but to understand the flow of the MC's consciousness, this is necessary to know the facts. I sort of settled on one version at the end, but the devil knows whether I'm right. At the same time, the writing style is good, easy to read and feel.

The events of the plot are very unrealistic, but fascinating. In addition to the exaggerated coolness of the heroine, each of the central characters has a trauma caused by abuse from parents/stepfathers/third parties. Too many abused people for one book. For representation, one or two examples would be enough. When you target all the characters it feels far-fetched.

In some places, there are not enough details, like what are you talking guys, we don't know who Dallas is (I flip already read pages and there's no Dallas, of course). Somewhere the plot is rather guessed than written. It could be a plot device or a way to create suspense, idk.

I liked how portrayed the MC's communication with her mother. The communication itself, of course, is disgusting, but the author coolly adheres to the chosen tactics, not softening even where the hand would definitely tremble to add a few embraces or gentle words.

I missed the sister and her story. For some reason, I learned about all sorts of vintage stockings of the MC's girlfriend but missed such an important topic as Lee's life. Although the crumbs that the author has scattered are enough to understand the sisterly connection.

The not a love triangle with the former and the present lovers of Nora is well shown, as well as the beginnings of both romances, taking into account the specifics of bi-orientation. The author knew what was writing about. Bravo! But it's where the realism ends.

The problem is that not a single con of Nora and her mother is shown through the mastermind angle. All we know is that Nora was always somewhere near, silent and passive. So how did she manage to become such a superhero who at 10 fought off a pedophile, at 12 put a dangerous person in prison, at 13 blackmailed the mayor, and closer to 18 stopped a bank robbery. And no because of luck. Just thanks to her own wits. The robbery is very funny too. The hostages are constantly left alone, they are not searched, they are allowed to go to the toilet together. Even Mulder wouldn't want to believe.

What I Liked
- How mother and daughter problems are portrayed without sidestepping, with all love, cruelty, and truth.
- How a love triangle that is not a love triangle is held.
- Queer romance feels right and not far-fetched like in many books I've read before.
- Original chapter structure with snarky titles.
- Iris! Such a likable character with a unique appearance and voice.

What I Disliked
- Nora's line and her smartness throughout the back and current stories. Too foxy, too able, too everything.
- All characters have REAL psychological trauma. Each. Of. Them. That's what transforms representation into absurd.
- Telling instead of showing when it comes to con past of Nora and her mother.

All in all, it's a fast-paced story you won't regret your time for, but have a little suspense of disbelief.
Profile Image for katie ❀.
120 reviews471 followers
May 20, 2021
[3.5] the girls i've been is an eerily and intricately written thriller like no other. although i'm not usually into the genre, this one held me captivated, mesmerized within its grasp.

the majority of this book takes place over the course of almost three hours, and while it seems like an unimaginable feat to fit a whole book into it, sharpe manages to pull it off. the predictability of the story is balanced on the tip of a knife, you just need to wait to see which way it will fall.

sharpe talks of pain, something that has been quietly present in the backdrop of nora's life; but also healing, something that nora does with others that have experienced pain like hers. each of nora's past identities have taught her valuable lessons, ones that she will not forget. they have shaped her into who she is, and that aspect was so stunning to read. emotional parts like these truly added another layer to this book, making it something so ephemeral, rather than that of your generic thriller.

however, there were too many flashbacks for my liking, to the point where it became repetitive, and i skimmed over some of it.

this is a story whose words linger in your mind, and for readers who want strong yet flawed characters, and thrillers rooted in feminism, this is for you.
Profile Image for annelitterarum.
178 reviews1,343 followers
November 2, 2021
Je ne pensais pas autant aimer!! Si une meilleure présentation de la chronologie et des chapitres différents avait été faite, et que la partie après la culmination de l’histoire était plus rapide, ça aurait été parfait. Vive la romance sapphique en plus🤌🏻
Profile Image for Maddie (Inking & Thinking).
165 reviews123 followers
June 4, 2021
⭐️ 4 Stars ⭐️

Nora O’ Malley has been lots of different girls. Her mother is a con artist who targets criminal men, taking Nora for the ride. But on one of her mother’s con, she falls for the mark. Nora decides to pull the biggest con, which is an escape from that life. Ever since then, Nora has been playing a normal life. But she’ll need to dust off her skills after three problems start to arise.

- Her ex walked in on Nora and her girlfriend, Iris. They are all friends, but Wes didn’t know
- The day after Wes finds them kissing, they have to go to deposit money they raised at a fundraiser
- As soon as they enter the bank, two robbers start robbing it

“There is no normal. There is just a bunch of people pretending there is. There’s just different levels of pain. Different stages of safe. The biggest con of all is that there’s a normal.”

The story jumps back and forth between the last four years of Nora’s life. During the chapters that feature the present, the book tells us how much time has passed since being held captive, what the working plan was and what items they had to help them. I thought this was a nice detail to add because it tells you quick information that will be helpful in the future and reminds you what is going on. This story focuses on one theme: Survival. It’s a story about how you may go through some of the worst moments, and how in the end, that will make you stronger. It also throws in a surprise theme of how you should keep those you care about close. Not only does the author do a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat, she throws in Nora’s complex relationships showing how they are affected by the present but also the past.

“What didn’t kill me didn’t make me stronger; what didn’t kill me made me into a victim. But I made me stronger. I made me into a survivor.”

Often, when I’m reading YA books there tends to be some pacing issues. But let me tell you, I thought the pacing was brilliant. I never felt bored while reading it and wanted to know what will happen next. The author creates this fast-paced story by having short chapters and fast dialogue scenes. A smart move for the author to do because it grabs your attention. The author also does a great job of balancing dark and heavy scenes with humor and thrilling parts. By balancing out the story with humorous and thrilling elements it helps to not make the story dark and depressing.

Nora O’Malley is different from any character I’ve read. She is someone you don’t want to mess with but throughout the book, you will come to love her character. Nora has been through some rough times, but we see her persevere and keep going. She has been through so much pain and hurt, but we see her evolve to eventually breaking past her barriers. Wes and Iris are complex and incredible side characters. Both of them have their own stories that we get to see in the book as well. Many times in YA books, we don’t get to see the side characters’ backgrounds but in this book, we get to know all about them. The only criticism I have about these two characters is that I wished we got to see more of them in the present. We got so much information about them in the past, but not much in the present.

"I am someone who survives."

The relationships between the characters were incredibly complex, with many layers to untangle. Nora and Wes are exes, but they are still friends. They still care about each other so much even though some events happen that rattle their relationship. I loved seeing that they were still friends, and I feel like this doesn’t happen a lot in YA books. I would love to see this in more YA books because this happens in real life. I was disappointed that we did not get to see Iris and Nora’s relationship more. We get so much of Wes and Nora’s, so it made me wanting more from the other one. I wish that their relationship was expanded upon more and we got more scenes between them.

The ending was a little underwhelming. I expected more out of it, and to me, it felt open-ended. I would have liked to find out what happened rather than not knowing. I expected it to have more of a solid ending to mark the end of Nora’s story. But her story still has more to it.

TW: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assaults, Child Molestation, Gun Violence, and Lots of Crime

Content warnings from the author: bit.ly/2NcdmLP

Check out my review on my blog: https://inkingandthinking.wordpress.c...
Profile Image for Neila.
339 reviews41 followers
May 27, 2022
I have so many issues with this book that I don’t even know where to start. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. I wanted a con artist and a heist story and ended up with traumatised teenagers trying to explain why they’re traumatised for 75% of the book while being held hostage in a bank robbery. It lacked the necessary wittiness to be a good con or a good heist and unfortunately the writing style felt so chopped up into little chapters going back and forth between the characters backstories and the bank heist, that I ended up caring about neither.

Nora kept saying how smart she is but why did she not do a single smart thing throughout the whole book? Stealing a key by entering an air vent or setting a closed bank on fire while trapped inside does not seem smart to me. Actions speak louder than words and as a con Nora should have known that.

The whole premise is ridiculous and unrealistic. I ended up having a teenager pretending to be the Mentalist/James Bond/Houdini/Superwoman/Rambo. And while that sounds fun when you’re trying to paint it, in a real world setting, it seems just a bit confused. The author wanted it to be a mystery/thriller/queer/contemporary/romance/heist which is a few too many things at once for either to be considered seriously.

I did not feel the thrill and I did not feel the tension? What kind of heist happens without a single shred of tension or thrill? I think that the chunked up narrative just impeded any possible built-up of tension and unfortunately the whole thing had nothing at stake, as everyone was sure of ending up fine and unscathed and the side characters were never properly introduced for the reader to even care (also they were never mentioned again so it did not matter whether we even cared or not).

The whole thing can be resumed to traumatised teenagers, snips of not that eventful and very blurry flashbacks trying to explain the origins of that trauma while over-explaining every little detail of no consequence to the story. Didn’t feel like picking up the book and had to force myself through most it. Thank god it’s short and yet it managed to still feel like half the chapters were just filler episodes in a quite poor main narrative…

Another thing I feel strongly about is mental health representation. Having PTSD is not a replacement for a personality, I repeat for those at the back who did not hear it, having trauma is not a personality trait!
I really hate when characterisation ends with a protagonist being explained by trauma or past experiences. Yes, your past changes you. But you are not your past. Also, I don’t enjoy having our main taking trauma as if it was all good and not because she’s trying to be strong but because she just uses it as a good practicing experience for future cons and just draws lessons from it without being impacted by the trauma in the slightest? I don’t get it. Yes you don’t have to be a wreck after suffering from trauma. Yes, you can be strong and be able to live a normal life after it. No, you cannot use it as a learning lesson for the next time a psycho thief decides to rob a bank, to get out of the situation as if you were some mastermind because when you were 10 years old you were bullied by the son of a man your mother was conning. I’m sorry that does not work that way. You cannot choose and pick what you want from PTSD and what you don’t. It’s not build yourself a mental illness so you can have an excuse to be morally grey.
Also, let’s talk about how morally grey is much of an overstatement here. To be morally grey, the character needs some depth and some struggles or moral compass that differs from what most would call the norm. Nora is in my opinion very far from having any depth at all besides her being morally and physically abused as a child and being a con artist. And even calling her a con artist is far fetched considering that she actually barely participated in the cons. She was just present while her mother was doing the con and was playing the part of “different” little girls. Which in my opinion were all pretty similar in the sense that they all had to be sweet and quiet and listen to whichever man her mother was conning. So she just had to be an average little girl, minding her own business most of the time, which honestly makes me wonder how can she even be called a con artist….
Another issue I had with her being supposedly morally grey is that punching someone who bullied you for months is hardly being in any kind of grey zone. A lot of kids on the playground retaliate to bullying and no one ever thinks of them as the devil…

Let me now talk about the side characters:

- The ex-boyfriend Wes: He was abused too and he’s her ex and now friend. That’s it. Zero contribution to this story. He wouldn’t be here nothing would have changed. Oh he maybe was there to trigger a reveal of who Nora really is to her new girlfriend. Yay, plot convenience!

- The new girlfriend Iris: She likes vintage clothes and is bi. Yay, a hipster bi-girl, that doesn’t even question Nora for lying about literally everything for no reason at all!

- The sister Lee: supposedly also a con artist. In which way? I have no clue, because nothing of her life was ever discussed except that she escaped their mother a while ago and that she was good at conning. She would have been an interesting character but no importance was given to her back story so I guess she ends up being as useless as the rest.

- The mother: except conning bad men and being there for Nora to have some trauma, she just seems irrelevant.


Finally, an open ending? One that invites for a sequel without really needing one? Is this a joke? I was never more annoyed at choices made by an author. The whole part 4 could have not existed and it wouldn’t have changed anything. Why introduce the whole old demons coming to hunt her in the last 50 pages of the book? It doesn’t make any sense.


Overall, the plot was lacking and chopped into little bits. The representation was there just for show as Nora being bi or a purple elephant wouldn’t have changed her or the story. No character is memorable or even remotely useful. The mental health issues felt ridiculed. The idea was good, the execution horrendous. The only good thing is that there is some representation of queer people, mental health, abuse and endometriosis awareness. Biggest disappointment this year…
Profile Image for danerys.
448 reviews194 followers
February 24, 2022
l 65% l

ayyoo imagine if you got stuck in a bank robbery with your girlfriend and ex after your ex caught you and your girlfriend making out and now there’s guns being pointed at you and shit but you happen to be an actual con artist so there’s that.

anyways this was a whole lot of YA fun.


the plot:

there isn’t a whole lot of plot in the sense that everything that happens just unfolds, it moves really fast and there’s not a lot of planning or speculation as to what is actually going on. but maybe i just read this too fast so i didn’t understand much.

the whole plot is basically nora punching people and trying to escape the bank robbery, and then it also goes back in time to tell you about all of nora’s past lives and this girl actually has a lot of trauma.

i appreciated how this book dealt with traumatic things happening to characters while they were young, i feel like often times characters will be in the middle of like 5 explosions and fight 10 people and kill 3 people and almost get killed like 57638 times, and then they will have absolutely no trauma or anything afterwards. like ummmmm how does that work? in this book, however, the traumatic events aren’t glossed over and ignored, and at one point the mc even said she wasn’t okay because of everything that happened because it had such a big effect on her. we need more of this type of thing in YA. realistic contemporary books can’t be the only ones that address trauma, come on.

also the mc goes to therapy!!!! we stan.

the more interesting part of the story is honestly the past events and how that unfolded, the story in the present time was too fast-moving and didn’t make a whole lot of sense and wasn’t very interesting to read about. it also didn’t give as much insight into the characters as the past did. i highly appreciate the whole flashback thing throughout the story because without that we would’ve had nothing. we would’ve gotten cardboard cutouts of characters with a shitty plot.


characters:

nora: this girl had such issues with self-identity but instead of taking away from her character like what happens in other books, it added to her character. we got a sense of all the different people she’d had to pretend to be throughout her life and how it made her lose herself along the way. nora was interesting and honest and smart and brave, literally the exact type of main character you need in a book about a bank robbery. and also she gave off such chaotic bisexual energy i love it.

iris: ok ok ok this girl was literally the most perfect side character ever. literally. the. most. perfect. with her dresses and lighter and arson investigator tendencies i just loved her so much, she was so unapologetically her and she was absolutely great. iconic queen.

wes: i never really got a true sense of what wes was like as a character but he seemed like a good person and i really liked his relationship with nora. they went from friends to dating to discovering nora’s secret identity and breaking up to being friends again and honestly bestie goals.

lee: lee. can. do. whatever. she. wants. with. me. what a hot independent bad bitch i’m in love honestly idk whether i want to be her or be with her fldjdkfkfjfk LITERALLY THE BEST CHARACTER


the writing:

the writing was mediocre. i dont have much to say about it, it was good at some points and cringey at others. but of course it was. this is YA so i didn’t expect anything different which honestly makes me sad because who says YA books can’t have good writing is that like an unspoken rule? could we get some YA books that are actually well-written please? i would actually want to read YA books and i would be able to give them all higher ratings BUT I CANT because the writing SUCKS and IT MAKES ME SO MAD. like for this book, it would definitely get a higher rating from me if it was written better and honestly the writing is one of the only complaints i have and i feel like i have this exact same complaint for every single YA book i read. just because it’s meant for younger readers, it doesn’t have to sound like it was written by a child. thank you for coming to my ted talk.


the ending:

the ending could not have been more cheesy if it tried and it dragged on so long to the point where it was so past necessary i could’ve just skipped it completely and still say that i read the whole book. and that last paragraph at the end literally made me want to gag i can’t deal with mediocre writing throughout the whole book and then suddenly at the end it’s pretending like it’s qUotAbLe and sounds good but it just comes across as unbearably cheesy and cliché. please only use that type of shit for the ending if you make your whole book have good writing, that’s the only way i’ll tolerate it.


3.5 stars

rep:

✔︎ bi mc
✔︎ sapphic relationship
✔︎ character with endometriosis

tw for child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual assault (of a minor), threats of rape, violence, etc.
Profile Image for h o l l i s .
2,337 reviews1,822 followers
September 12, 2021
This was.. wow.

I don't know what I expected when I picked this up (#NoBlurbers) but this was an off the cuff recommendation from a friend of mine (hi Sam!) and I saw my library had it so thought, hey, why not. And wow.

[..] she kissed me like I was prickly, like I was already understood, like I was worth it.

I really don't even know where to begin. Within these pages you'll find con artists, queer humans, trauma, clever girls, one of the absolute best representations of found family I've ever read, sharp edges, devoted sisters, dangerous situations, and the absolute will to survive.

I hate the whole "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" saying. It's bullshit. Sometimes what doesn't kill you is worse. Sometimes what kills you is preferable. Sometimes what doesn't kill you messes you up so bad it's always a fight to make it through what you're left with.

Some books inspire paragraphs upon paragraphs of words and sometimes you're just just staring at a blinking cursor. This is obviously the latter.

Netflix has apparently snatched this up to be adapted, with Millie Bobby Brown to star, and that is incredibly exciting. If they capture even half the magic of Sharpe's words, pacing, and general vibe, it'll be amazing. More amazing? It might get more people wanting to read the source material. Which you absolutely should. And, yes, I will be chewing through the author's backlist between now and then.

Highly recommend.

4.5 stars.

---

This review can also be found at A Take From Two Cities.
Profile Image for Sienna.
28 reviews278 followers
June 26, 2021
The Girls I've Been TWs:
Child abuse, violence, gaslighting, CSA, SA, domestic violence, grooming, bank robbery, etc.
https://booktriggerwarnings.com/index...

*no spoilers*

OKAY, I finally finished it! If I wasn't in a major reading slump, I would've finished this book much earlier because it is a fast-paced, action-packed story.

Short little description (skip ahead if you want to hear my thoughts!):
Our main character, Nora, is a bisexual badass who's been through... well, a lot. However, all of that seems to be behind her now. She goes to therapy to work through the trauma and has an incredible (and also badass) sister, supportive girlfriend, and an ex-boyfriend--who she is still friends with.

One morning, she arrives at the bank with her ex-boyfriend, Wes, and current girlfriend, Iris, to deposit the money they made from a fundraiser. And, as luck would have it, two bank robbers interrupt. But Nora, who was raised by a professional con-artist and has a few tricks up her sleeve, won't make it easy on them.

Onto my thoughts :)
I LOVED THIS BOOK! Incredible. 4.5 stars.

Of course, I adored the bisexual representation. Iris and Nora have an amazing relationship. Surprisingly though, I was even more appreciative of the relationship Nora has with her ex. There is no love triangle in sight! Wes doesn't try to get her back or disrespect Nora's relationship with Iris. It's completely platonic and I loved it. There's a bit of the found family trope too, which I enjoyed.

I thought the revelation of Nora's past was quite interesting as well. Every couple (or more) of chapters, we were provided with Nora's experiences as the different girls she's been. While it did slightly irritate me to be taken out of the action, it allowed me to get to know Nora in a way that wouldn't have been possible if the story was set up differently.

Anyway, The Girls I've Been is fascinating and I encourage you to read it if you enjoy thrillers!
Profile Image for Melanie (mells_view).
1,683 reviews311 followers
January 26, 2021
You can’t con a con artist. Isn’t that what they always say?

Content warnings from the author: bit.ly/2NcdmLP

The Girls I’ve Been at it’s base is a twisty YA thriller following a teenage girl named Nora, who was raised by a con artist to be a con artist. She, her best friend, and her girlfriend are being held hostage in a bank heist, and Nora uses her retired con savvy to hopefully get them out alive. If you read TGIB, then you will find the story is more than a YA thriller. It’s an exploration in healing and survival after experiencing trauma, navigating many forms of love, and a fictional look at a mother/daughter con team relationship, that I’m sure will feel scary relatable for many who have toxic relationships with their mother.

I honestly enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was way deeper than I expected, and I truly felt connected in so many ways to Nora. Not only her though, because even her friends and family grab you, and you’ll want more and more of them. The thrilling aspect of the story would be enough alone, but the emotional and deep parts of this story take it to another level for me. They are that boost from entertaining, to entertaining and impactful for me.

The pacing of this story is good. The chapters are quick, and the dialogue and story are as well. There is a back and forth of time jumping, and it personally took me awhile to adjust, because as I said the chapters are quick, so I felt like I was moving on as soon as I was adjusted in one time frame. That said the time jumps were necessary to establish Nora as a character, and to explore why she is who she is. So they were worth it even if I felt a little bouncy at first.

The end gave me chills. I can’t say much without spoiling, but it’s poetic and the perfect end. So to close. If you’re looking for a YA that’s thrilling, mysterious, dark fun, and also has that deep emotional edge, then you MUST pick up The Girls I’ve Been!


AVAILABLE NOW!
*ARC
May 23, 2022
I just found out this is going to be a Netflix adaption! 😱 This should be good! ⁣

Wow this book was crazy, such a whirlwind!!⁣
I can’t even imagine the life Nora has led. No girl should have to suffer what she went through. But what I love about Nora is she’s a fighter she doesn’t give up even through all the crap dumped on her. ⁣

Nora (a girl with many different names) has grown up being a con-girl. Through no fault of her own, her mom brought her up that way. But because of this I also wouldn’t want to mess with Nora either. I also felt this deep sympathy for what she had went through. She’s a very complex character.⁣
Nora, Wes (Nora’s Ex Boyfriend) and Iris (Nora’s current Girlfriend) (all friends) get caught up in the middle of a bank heist.⁣
Things are not exactly going the way the bank robbers want and they have nothing to lose, so that makes them dangerous. So Nora being Nora starts to use her unique skills to think of ways to get them all out and alive. ⁣
You’ll have to read it yourself to see who or if any of them actually make it!⁣

𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐬:⁣
I loved Nora, Wes and Iris. Each of them had their own stories and unique characteristics, they each brought a lot to the story. Of course you can’t help but be fascinated by Nora, the MC and also very saddened by some of the things she’s had to survive. ⁣
I especially loved Nora’s much older sister, Lee a side character that was brave and devoted to Nora and also a bit scary in her own right. ⁣
Nora and Lee’s Mom..I can’t even go there. Let’s just say she is a piece of shit. A waste of space. ⁣

𝐒𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲:⁣
The plot was interesting. You get to learn bits and pieces of Nora’s past “lives” and all the different girls that she was intertwined with the current story of the bank robbery and her current life. ⁣
I liked how at the beginning of each chapter, starting with chapter 8, there is a list of what Nora is working with to try and finagle her way out of their mess. Ex. 1 lighter, no plan..later on 1 lighter, 3 bottles of vodka, 1 pair of scissors, no plan. ⁣
You get the idea.⁣
The story was fast paced. The dialogue between the characters is quick witted and done well.⁣
I like how Tess wove dark aspects with humor to find a perfect balance. And how Nora’s therapy and Iris having endometriosis is brought up. Certain conditions are not always mentioned so outright in YA. Kudos Tess for calling attention to some serious matters. ⁣

The reason that I deducted a star is because of how the story ended. It was kind of abrupt. This girl needs more info! But otherwise this was a really interesting story with lots of different components, one of them being about a kick ass girl who claws her way to survival. ⁣
Tess Sharpe is now on my radar as an author to read so I recommend you all give her a try! ⁣

𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐤 𝐘𝐨𝐮 𝐭𝐨 𝐏𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐮𝐢𝐧 𝐓𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐞𝐀𝐑𝐂 𝐢𝐧 𝐞𝐱𝐜𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐦𝐲 𝐡𝐨𝐧𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰.
Profile Image for Hayley.
162 reviews3,894 followers
January 27, 2021
3.5/5 stars

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I hoped to. I really loved how fast paced the main plot was, but some parts felt bogged down by the flashbacks. I wish we could’ve seen more of the characters in action in the present.
I loved Iris and Nora’s relationship. That and learning about Nora’s past identities and how they shaped her into who she is now were probably my favorite parts.
Ultimately, this was a fun read. It was a unique story full of action and intrigue, but still examined very important, serious subject matter in an appropriate way. I wish I could’ve connected with Nora a bit more; I think that would’ve helped me feel more invested in the story. She had a nice arc, but we didn’t examine her character as deeply as I hoped we could have. Same with Wes and Iris. I loved the idea of the story, but the execution fell a bit flat for me.
Profile Image for Quinn.
61 reviews38 followers
February 5, 2021
UPDATE: You can now read my full thoughts on this, the best book I've read so far this year, on my blog!

oh my god. OH. MY GOD.

review to come soon but until then:

• found family
• wlw between bi mc and bi/pan li with endometriosis
• lovers to friends/franken-friends/family
• survivors
• con artistry

the full list of trigger warnings can be found here
Profile Image for Lia Strange.
432 reviews184 followers
April 17, 2021
solo diré que valió la pena dormirme a las 4am can tal de terminar este libro
Profile Image for cossette.
278 reviews212 followers
June 6, 2021
this is YA thriller at its best. i'm in awe. whoever compared it to "aftg if it was good", you were right. thank you to bie & quinn for yelling @ me about this book so i finally read it 🤍

trigger warnings: 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, childhood sexual abuse (off-page), the aftermath of childhood sexual abuse and surviving childhood sexual abuse, verbal threats of physical assault, threats of sexual assault, physical assault (physical intimidation, hand to hand fighting, bullying, gunshot and stabbing wounds, arson, fire, explosions, references to dismemberment), murder, 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.
Profile Image for Caroline.
169 reviews340 followers
August 9, 2021
*4.5 stars

i really liked this book! it was definitely not what i expected, but in a good way. nora is such a clever, cunning, morally-grey bisexual badass, and i loved reading her story, both past and present. i really liked the relationships between her and iris & her and wes. they're all true found family, and i like how nora and wes's relationship remained close & healthy after their breakup and how they're able to mark the clear line between platonic and romantic. all three characters are very complex and definitely surprised me in a good way. i'm in love with iris, thank you very much.

i love how this book tackled agency and nora using her past to her advantage, finally gaining the authority over her life that she always lacked in the past. the characters' individual developments do relate to abuse and other traumatic events of their past, so to see nora take back control of her own life, yet acknowledging its effect on her, was very freeing. this is a book where the title only makes sense after you read it.

there are two main reasons this isn't a 5-star read
1. the story functions heavily through flashbacks, which sometimes slows the pace. i love myself a good dual timeline story, but these flashbacks relied a lot on "telling", so compared to the literal heist-hostage moment of the main plotline, there was a noticeable change in pace. i still couldn't put this book down, though
2. in the end i was left wanting more. i don't really know how else to describe it

still definitely recommend though!

cw: [please read all they're very extensive] linked here
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