The Girl I Used to Be

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
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Popular with kids
Teen hunts for her parents' killer in page-turning mystery.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 10 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids learn about the challenges of being an emancipated minor, from working full-time to persuading a landlord to rent to a teen living on her own. 

Positive Messages

Coming to terms with your past -- no matter how painful -- can open up a positive future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Olivia has the odds stacked against her -- orphaned at age 3, bounced around in foster homes after the death of her grandmother, and then rejected by her adoptive mother. Despite this, she takes the legal steps necessary to become an emancipated minor, finds a job and an apartment, and starts saving for college. 


Three characters are murdered, and another is shot. Olivia has a flashback of her mother's murder. None of these episodes is overly graphic.  


A few kisses.


Olivia works at Fred Meyer, a supermarket chain in the Northwest, and a Walmart parking lot figures in the mystery. Everyday brands such as Cheetos, Doritos, Hamburger Helper, Google, McDonald's, Starbucks, and YouTube are mentioned in passing. Her mother's murder and father's disappearance were featured on America's Most Wanted.  

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult drinks beer at a party, and Olivia and an adult smoke together one time. A character is revealed to be a meth dealer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry (Shock Point) is a murder mystery with a tough and determined teen heroine who's been forced to grow up too soon. After the body of Olivia Reinhart's mother was discovered and her father went missing, everyone assumed he was the killer. Then, 14 years later, evidence is uncovered proving her father died that same day. Now 17 and living on her own, Olivia returns to her hometown intent on solving the mystery of her parents' murders. It's a quick, fast-paced read, and Olivia's a character readers will root for. While violence is at the core of the story -- three characters are killed, one is shot, and Olivia has a flashback of her mother's murder -- nothing's described in graphic detail.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byHmcCalls09845 March 19, 2019


I think its way too inappropriate way to much sexual interlacement
Adult Written byRyanLong398 November 3, 2019
Teen, 14 years old Written byJteutla February 1, 2018


This is one of the best murder/mystery book ever.
Teen, 13 years old Written byK-bear November 11, 2020


This book was an amazing mystery, and I loved it! If you like adventure and action this is the perfect book for you!

What's the story?

Olivia Reinhart grew up believing her mother had been murdered by her father. After the death of the grandmother who became her guardian, Olivia found herself adrift in the foster care system and was briefly adopted. Now a 17-year-old emancipated minor living on her own in Portland, Oregon, she’s stunned to learn from local police that her father’s body has been discovered and that he was not her mother’s killer. Olivia decides to return to the hometown she barely remembers to search for the truth about what happened to her parents. THE GIRL I USED TO BE is an apt title, as Olivia tells no one in town that she's really Ariel Benson (her name had been changed when she was adopted), the daughter who witnessed her mother's murder but was left unharmed by the killer. Aided by Duncan, a childhood friend who recognizes her but agrees to keep her secret, Olivia begins putting together a list of suspects -- a list that includes some of the people closest to her parents. 

Is it any good?

A tough yet vulnerable teen sleuth with a tragic past, a secret identity, two unsolved murders, and a killer on the loose make for an engaging and page-turning read. Olivia's determination to not only solve her parents' murders but also make a future for herself should be inspiring to readers. But parents may find the depiction of Olivia's life as an emancipated minor a bit too good to be true. Those with older readers might want to use her story as the starting point in a discussion about the realities of life for teens who have the "freedom" to make all their own choices. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about being on your own at 17. How difficult would it be for most teens that age to get a job, find a place to live, pay their own bills, and begin planning for college without an adult to help them? 

  • Do you think murders featured on TV shows such as America's Most Wanted have a better chance of being solved?

  • Olivia trusted Duncan to keep her real identity secret. Are your friends good at keeping secrets? Are you?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love mysteries

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