________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 39. . . .June 8, 2018


The Girl You Thought I Was.

Rebecca Phillips.
New York, NY: Harper Teen (Distributed in Canada by HarperCollins Canada), July, 2018.
346 pp., trade pbk. & Ebook, $21.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-0-06-257094-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-06-257096-3 (Ebook).

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Chasity Findlay.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reader’s Copy.



“Why, Morgan?” he asks. The roughness from a minute ago is gone. Now he just sounds disappointed. Which is even worse.

I look down at my hands. “I needed sunglasses.”

“But why…” He turns away and runs a hand through his thinning, rust-colored hair. “Why steal? What on earth was going through your head?”

I shrug. He’d never understand. I don’t even understand. All I know is that shoplifting gives me some kind of strange comfort. It makes me feel powerful, more in control. It centers me when life feels unbalanced. There’s no point in trying to explain or make excuses. Clearly, there’s something fundamentally wrong with me if I need to steal things to feel normal again.

Dad starts the car. “When you need something, come to me. I’ll give you the money.”

Something inside me breaks free and suddenly I’m pissed. “We don’t have the money, Dad,” I yell, even though it’s not really about money at all. But letting him think I stole the sunglasses because we can’t afford them seems to make the most sense, so I run with it. “You really think I’d ask you for expensive sunglasses when you’re barely able to keep up with the rent?”

“Then you do without!” he yells back at me.

His words ring in the small space. I turn toward the window, quickly wiping a tear off my cheek. Dad only raises his voice when he’s reached the outer limit of his patience, and it takes a lot to get him there. Mom used to push him there sometimes, but today is a first for me.

“I’m sorry,” I say after a few moments of silence.

Dad sighs, and I dare a glance at him. Hi face is flushed and he’s gripping the wheel like it’s the only thing stopping him from strangling me. Not that he ever would, but the thought has probably crossed his mind in the past hour or so.

“I’m going to have to tell your mother about this.”

My body goes cold. Contact with my mother has been sporadic since I chose to stay here with Dad instead of moving away with her. I haven’t really spoken to her in months, and I don’t want this to be the thing that reopens the lines of communication. Knowing her, she’d use it as proof that Dad’s an unfit parent and force me to come with her.

“No. Please, Dad. There’s no reason to tell her. It was my mistake, and I’ll deal with it myself. Don’t mention it to Rachel either. Please.” It’s not that I think my sister would judge me— she’s not exactly a saint, herself. She’d spent the summer before college drinking and smoking pot, but she’d stopped before it got out of hand, unlike me with my stealing. I don’t want her to know how out of control I let it get.

“I’m not making any promises.” Dad backs out of the parking space a little rougher than usual. “We have no idea what’s going to come of this yet. You could be in serious trouble, Morgan. Do you realize that? I need to hire a damn lawyer. Another one.”

I face the window again, my cheeks burning. I didn’t think of that at the time. More lawyer costs. More time spent in the legal system. First for the divorce, and now for me. When I screw up, I screw up epically.

“I just… I don’t know what you were thinking. This isn’t like you at all. Why would a smart girl like you do something so unbelievably stupid?”


By all outward appearances, Morgan Kemper is the wholesome girl next door. Everyone who knows or meets Morgan sees her as studious, kind, hardworking, and sweet. But things are not always what they seem. Morgan has been shoplifting—clothes, accessories, and makeup—for more than a year. Despite the fact that she is consumed by guilt and anxiety after each occurrence of theft, she cannot seem to stop.

      After being caught on a bold shoplifting attempt, Morgan is sentenced to serve community service and must complete an online theft education course. Despite realizing that she wants to and needs to atone for her actions and get better, Morgan feels that she must hide the truth from her friends and loved ones. To make matters worse, Morgan’s new relationship with Eli, the nephew of the owner of the second-hand shop where she is serving her community service, is built on a foundation of lies as she has kept her reasons for volunteering a secret from him. Soon Morgan realizes that she needs to make a decision—come clean to her friends, boyfriend, and family, running the risk of them turning away from her, or continue to keep her secret, prolonging her inner turmoil and delaying her healing.

      The Girl You Thought I Was is author Rebecca Phillips’ latest offering for HarperCollins Canada. According to Phillips’ website, she has been writing young adult novels since she was a teen herself, and her experience and commitment to the craft is certainly demonstrated within her latest book. She has developed a realistic and multidimensional protagonist with whom readers are likely to identify. Through Morgan’s actions, thoughts and reflections, and interactions with other characters, it is shown that she is struggling with living up to the expectations of who those in her life believe she is and expect her to be, and keeping her true fears, experiences, and problems bottled up inside. The struggle between the inner and outer selves and the idea of balancing reality with perceptions are important topics for teens today as they work toward developing their own identities and finding their place in the contexts in which they live.

      The Girl You Thought I Was covers many relevant themes with which teens are likely to connect: identity, family dynamics, growth and change, mental health, friendship, and romantic relationships. I can imagine that readers will empathize with Morgan as she works through her problems with shoplifting and her family issues in order to move forward. It takes her some time, but Morgan comes to the realization that talking about her problems may be anxiety provoking and seem risky, but it is better in the long run to promote healing, a message that many can relate to and apply to their lives in some way. Through Morgan’s growth as a character, this book demonstrates that everyone makes mistakes, but it is what we do next to fix things and move forward that matters the most.

      The book’s plot is thoroughly developed, detailing the fallout of Morgan’s shoplifting charge as it relates to all of the different aspects of her life. As the book progresses, readers will see how each of the people in her life reacts to her revealing her secret and supports her in the aftermath. The varied ways that her friends, family, and coworkers respond are extremely realistic and well-developed. A particularly insightful aspect of the book is how Morgan reflects on and determines what the root causes for her shoplifting habit are. I appreciated this part of the book and found it to be unique as most of the books I have read that concern shoplifting have focussed more on its moral and legal aspects and the characters’ learning their lesson about how wrong shoplifting is. Whilst Morgan does learn from her mistakes through completing community service and an online course, her self-reflection into fixing the root causes for her behaviour is key to her healing and commitment to not repeating the same mistakes again. The way this theme is developed in The Girl You Thought I Was frames the offender in more of a human light, showing that someone who is perceived as a good person and who truly wants to do good in the world may manifest symptoms of a larger problem through an act such as shoplifting. The portrayal of shoplifting as a symptom as opposed to the main problem is refreshing in this book.

      The Girl You Thought I Was is an engaging and relatable read filled with realistic and multidimensional characters and layered themes. The book takes a unique look into the deeper-rooted problems behind the act of shoplifting for the protagonist, an approach which is likely to develop empathy within readers. For these reasons, I believe that this book would be a welcomed addition to any classroom, school, or home library.

Highly Recommended.

Chasity Findlay is an English language arts teacher and a graduate of the Master of Education program in Language and Literacy at the University of Manitoba.

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