The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe Published by Hachette Children’s Group 

THE excitement and fast pace of this thriller are established from the start with three young people thrust into the middle of a bank robbery and being taken hostage.

This quick introduction to action sets a tone that grips the reader and pulls them into the intense, volatile and mysterious world of its central character Nora.

Bisexual lead Nora is put in an awkward situation when she must take money from a fundraiser to her small town’s local bank accompanied by both her ex-boyfriend Wes and new girlfriend Iris. However, soon the personal drama between the three teens becomes the least of their problems.

When two bank robbers arrive carrying guns and issuing threats, Nora takes to her hostage situation with a surprisingly smooth and analytical approach that intrigues, creating the question of where did she learn all this?

While the three of them formulate a plan to get themselves and the other hostages out safely, the truth is slowly revealed both to Iris and us.

Through exciting flashbacks, Nora’s inner monologue and hasty explanations, we learn of her past that was filled with danger. Nora is not her real name.

Having grown up with a con artist mother, she has been forced to adopt many names in order to act as a pawn, an innocent girl adding credibility to her mother’s schemes from when she was as young as five.

With this being all she’s ever known, her upbringing was tainted with lies, learning how to recognise and utilise them, developing the skills of a criminal and charm of a performer but constantly being burdened by the absence of identity and the rarity of affection.

She escaped this life only when her older sister Lee saved her at age 12, and together they escaped to this small town.

Falling in love with Wes and then Iris, the way in which she values each of them for caring for her, provides much of the emotional heart of this action-packed crisis.

Now, however, in front of two of the very few people she has been vulnerable around, she must revisit her old world and the tricks of a con artist in order to save their lives and those of the other innocent strangers trapped in the bank.

Putting Nora into her first crisis situation in years makes for a constantly gripping story I found myself struggling to put down.

Every moment, every short chapter reveals more about either Nora or the situation.

Switching between the past and present, the stories of each of the girls she has been are revealed, creating a deep sympathy and interest in this character who is, in a more intense way than we all are, a mosaic of her past experiences.

While she must remember how to lie and trick to negotiate their release, Nora also abhors and addresses the trauma she was exposed to in childhood. What is so memorable about this book, is how she copes with her relationships with Wes and Iris and how, with the right people, she can learn for the first time how to only be herself.