A fond personal specialty of mine for years has been page to screen adaptations. I love to see the joy of a new story and new reimaginings of beautiful material brought to life for a new audience, and exploring the nuances of how we experience books verbally versus visually. My latest discovery in this area has been The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe. This young adult thriller grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me along to the end. The best part–it’s being adapted for Netflix as a full feature headed by and starring Millie Bobby Brown. I have no doubt she’ll understand the assignment, but first, I’ll explain the brilliance of the novel itself.
Our protagonist is Nora O’Malley, a regular suburban teen girl in Northern California, or so the reader is led to believe. Over the course of the novel’s 368 scintillating pages, she unravels the tale of how her mother raised her to be a con artist, scamming the next mark and looking out for herself only. After her older sister assists in breaking Nora free from the cycle of danger and abuse, Nora has to hold it all together with a looming threat over her head; not to mention the bank robbery that she, her girlfriend, and her ex-boyfriend just walked into.
As the reader progresses through the present and Nora’s immediate danger, we also regress to hear of the perilous lifestyle she lived before and the abuse she suffered at the hand of her mother as well as the men she ensnared. These segments of the novel are equal parts heartbreaking and illuminating, and explain the true meaning of the book’s title. As Nora tells her story, she simultaneously tells that of the girls she has been before–each one meeting their end by the end of a con. The lessons she learned from them have helped her guard herself, and each past identity helped her to survive the bank robbery, but not the end of the violence.
Using break-neck pacing and a spare cast of characters, this novel functions similarly to a play. I can envision this format because of the way Sharpe weaves a story around central locations, characters and themes, a return to the classic precepts of storytelling and five star indicator. This is refreshing to see, and engages my interest in Sharpe’s other novels and future endeavors. She’s definitely one to watch!
By Leah Ollie, Incoming Freshman, Butler University