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‘The Girls I’ve Been’ portrays abuse through strong characters, unconventional structure

Rudi Chamria
“The Girls I’ve Been” by Tess Sharpe follows protagonist Nora as she tries to escape from a hostage situation while simultaneously uncovering memories from her past. Sharpe takes the reader through a whirlwind adventure that confronts various forms of abuse in this gripping novel.

“The Girls I’ve Been” by Tess Sharpe opens with a tense hostage situation between the novel’s three protagonists: Nora, Wess and Iris. I thought the plot would revolve around the characters’ escape, but I was wrong to assume its simplicity. In the pages beyond the dramatic opening sequence, this book is really about being one step ahead of your demons. 

The three themes of psychological, sexual and domestic abuse are heavy topics that Sharpe boldly confronts within the novel as she digs into Nora’s emotional experiences. Despite Nora’s tendency to keep calm in tough situations, her inner turmoil is far from the stoic expression she holds.

“The Girls I’ve Been” shifts back and forth between Nora’s childhood and the hostage situation at the bank. The first plotline involves Nora going to a bank to withdraw money, only to find herself in captivity and held for ransom. The second storyline surrounds Nora’s childhood as her mother forces her into the life of a con artist, constantly on the run. Despite seeming like unrelated storylines, Sharpe entwines the two to give readers a full picture of Nora’s character. 

On that premise, Sharpe couldn’t have written a better protagonist. Nora may appear to be a simple character on the surface, but she holds the complex trauma of her abusive relationship with her mother. 

Sharpe manages to bridge the gap between the two storylines by bringing the echoes of Nora’s past into the present.

The sequence was initially confusing, but soon enough that confusion became curiosity as more pieces began to fit together. In fact, I enjoyed only knowing half of the story for the first 200 pages as it maintained an element of mystery. Sharpe manages to bridge the gap between the two storylines by bringing the echoes of Nora’s past into the present. The complicated structure made the book near impossible to put down; the mystery of who Nora really is kept me turning pages until I reached the end. 

The other two characters trapped as hostages are Wess, her ex-boyfriend, and Iris, her current girlfriend. There’s an awkward dynamic from the start, quickly diminishing as their fear heightens. Although Sharpe dedicates less time to their storylines, she still explores the impacts of their past trauma. 

Wess suffers from domestic abuse at the hands of his father which adds to the main theme of seeing how different characters deal with traumatic events from their childhood. His relationship with Nora bloomed from a mutual friendship, later becoming a romance that crashed as Nora’s past caught up with her and she couldn’t hide her secrets from Wess anymore. As hostages, their friendship is tattered and bruised and held together by cheap tape.

Iris, on the other hand, is more enigmatic about her background. As Nora is forced to recount her past to Iris, Iris is forced to do the same with Nora.

“The Girls I’ve Been’ is a whirlwind of a book; it taught me that, at times, the things left unspoken are even more important than what is said.


If you are worried about abuse or about a friend, please reach out to one of our school counselors or a member of the Safeguarding Team. You can also confidentially get support outside of school by connecting with one of these helplines:

SAFELINE tel: 0845 767 8000

Helpline providing information and advice on mental health, 1 p.m. – 11 p.m.

The Samaritans tel: 0845 790 90 90

24-hour confidential, emotional support for anyone in crisis.

Childline tel: 0800 1111

Call, email, or chat 24-hour access.

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About the Contributors
Vittoria Di Meo
Vittoria Di Meo, Sports Editor: Online
Vittoria Di Meo (’24) is the Sports Editor: Online for The Standard and this is her fourth year in the publication. Di Meo started writing for the Middle School newspaper, The Scroll in Grade 8 and soon found an instant attraction to journalism. Di Meo loves writing and is excited by the opportunity to shine light on current events. Outside of The Standard Di Meo has tried out all kinds of sports but has discovered she mostly enjoys running by herself to listen to music and challenge limits.
Rudi Chamria
Rudi Chamria, Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Online
Rudi Chamria (’24) is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief: Online of The Standard. She joined the newspaper in Grade 9 as a staff writer because she enjoys connecting with people through interviewing and utilizing her platform to highlight underrepresented voices. In addition to her role on The Standard, Chamria leads the Social Justice Council, plays tennis and engages in community service.

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