The Girls I've Been

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Girls I've Been Book Poster Image
Suspenseful, poignant thriller about teens taken hostage.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Stands out for positive role models.

Educational Value

Making a grenade and smoke bomb from ordinary household items is narrated.

Positive Messages

Sometimes you have to hide your true self in order to survive, but to be a survivor you have to find a way that you can safely be your true self. Emphasizes the importance of trusted loved ones for healing and recovery. Sometimes it's OK to use violent means to protect yourself or stop an abuser; it doesn't mean you're a violent person.

Positive Role Models

Narrator Nora was a victim of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse for most of her childhood. She learns that she doesn't have to try to be invisible, that she can and should stand up and be seen by the people around her. Through violent self defense, she made herself stronger and able to survive. Nora identifies as bisexual. An ex-boyfriend is now her best friend, and she's in a same-sex romantic relationship. Another character's past same-sex relationship is mentioned. Nora and Iris model a loving relationship of mutual support, loyalty, and deep emotional connection.


The main plot is about teens held hostage during a bank robbery. People are shot, stabbed, punched, choked, slapped, and burned. Weapons include guns, knives, scissors, knitting needles, a broom, and heavy objects. Blood and pain are described briefly without gore. Past sexual abuse, including raping a child, is referred to and implied but no actions are directly described. A villain is set on fire and survives. Pain from a fall from a ladder is described in some detail. Teens build a chemical bomb with shrapnel and a smoke bomb out of household items. The chemical bomb causes serious injury; blood and skin stripped away are mentioned. The smoke bomb causes confusion and choking.


Some kissing, holding hands, romantic dynamics, and feelings of attraction. A character has endometriosis and has debilitating pain during menstruation. Talk about using a menstrual cup and menstrual blood. A past teen pregnancy and abortion are mentioned, and that the pregnancy was caused by the boyfriend not liking to use condoms when his girlfriend on birth control pills had to take an antibiotic.


"S--t," "holy f--k," "f--king bitches," "bulls--t," "ass," "pissed," and "hell."


Incidental food, clothing, car, and other products to establish character or mood.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Airplane bottles of vodka in an office desk drawer. An adult character only drinks once a year, but to excess. Mention that a character has a low tolerance for booze and weed. A character accidentally eats a ton of pot cookies. Mention that a friend is stoned most of the time.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tess Sharpe's The Girls I've Been is a suspense thriller that involves being held hostage during a bank robbery. There's positive LGBTQ+ representation, and past emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and trying to heal from that are strong themes. Present-day violence includes shooting, stabbing, choking, punching, and a small, homemade explosive, with some pain described in detail and blood mentioned but not described in detail. Past sexual abuse, molestation, and rape are mentioned but not described. Sexual activity is mild with a few same-sex kisses, holding hands, and romantic dynamics. Some aspects of menstruation are discussed in detail. Strong language includes "s--t," "f--k," and "bitches."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTavi.Bear April 1, 2021
Teen, 13 years old Written byGayBookworm13 October 2, 2021

What's the story?

In THE GIRLS I'VE BEEN, Nora's been grifting and learning the art of the con from her mother ever since she was a little girl. She had to change identities and personalities so many times that she started to lose all sense of who she really is. As she got older, the men her mother marked for cons became more and more abusive. Until her mother fell in love with the worst one of all. Nora managed to escape her mother's clutches and the abuses of her new stepfather, going into hiding with her older sister. Now living a fairly normal life, she's managed to start healing, going to school, and even making friends. Until the day she, her ex-boyfriend, and her new girlfriend walk into the bank to deposit cash from a fundraiser and become the hostages of two armed men. Nora's past and present come crashing down all around her as she and her friends figure out how to end the standoff or escape. But are there some things you can never escape?

Is it any good?

This suspense-filled story will keep readers on the edge of their seats with its effective blending of past and present. The excitement in The Girls I've Been kicks in right from start and is cleverly balanced with piecing together the mystery of Nora's past. There's even a nice balance of humor and a little bit of romance woven in, too. Nora's a believable narrator even though she's hard to get to know, but learning about her past in bits and pieces is an effective way of showing the distance she's always had to keep from people in her own life. When she finally starts to really come into her own, and find within herself the power and courage to be her own person, readers will come to understand and maybe even admire her. Near the end, the pacing stutters a bit, so there's no real surprise or shock there. But it does come to a satisfying and effective end. Violence, including child abuse, and strong language make it best for teens and up.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The Girls I've Been. Is it too much? Is it realistic? Does it make a difference if it is?

  • How much strong language is OK in books? Is it different for movies, TV, videos, etc.? Why, or why not?

  • Stories with lots of suspense and excitement are always popular. Why do we like them so much? What are some of your favorites?

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