The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published on 05-11-13
by Disney Hyperion
Genres: Action & Adventure, Law & Crime, Mystery, Young Adult
Also by this author: The Naturals, Killer Instinct
Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But, it's not a skill that she's ever taken seriously. Until the FBI gets involved.
They've begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they want Cassie. What she doesn't realize is that there's more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she's sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own.
Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms close. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.
The Naturals is hands down one of the most engaging, entertaining and addictive books I’ve read all year. It’s exciting, pacy and gloriously original, with a concept that lives up to the hype and a plot that’s (almost literally) to die for. It’s Criminal Minds meets YA lit, but it’s not just for fans of crime drama. It’s a smart, cinematic read that hooks you in from page one and refuses to let you go.
Cassie Hobbes spent her childhood learning how to read people – their histories, their personalities, their relationships – from her fraudulent fortune teller mother, but that childhood ended the day her mother vanished, presumed dead, leaving a pool of blood, a trashed room and a traumatised daughter in her wake. Cassie finds refuge with her Air Force father’s warm, messy, extended Italian family, but she knows she’ll never be able to forget her past. Cassie sees cheating boyfriends in body language and financial strain in food orders, and there’s no off switch for an innate ability like hers. It’s only when the FBI come calling that she realizes her ability may be the key to solving her mother’s murder and other crimes like it – but no one ever said it was going to be easy.
The Naturals is a name given to a team of teenagers recruited by the FBI to help solve cold cases. Each prodigy has their own unique ability, which they use to help identify and track down criminals in ways nobody else is capable of. Charming, easygoing Michael can read emotions. Idiosyncratic, nerdy Sloane is a whiz with numbers, patterns and probabilities. Brazen, reckless Lia is a compulsive liar, and therefore a natural lie detector. And defensive, mysterious Dean? He’s a profiler. He, like Cassie, excels at painting theoretical pictures of people – specifically criminals, including serial killers.
The characters of this book are incredibly individual. As well as the Naturals themselves, you’ve got their handlers – the FBI agents who set up the program and scout the country for potential recruits – but my favourite character arc is the one that develops between Michael, Dean and Cassie.
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of love triangles, but the thing is, the romance between the central characters of The Naturals is actually good. It’s genuine and well-written. Their dynamic is engaging and realistic as well as swoon-worthy – a tantalising slow burn that leaves you desperate for more. Cassie acknowledges that she has feelings for both Michael and Dean, and while she’s not quite sure what to do about it, it’s not the focus of the novel. The plot doesn’t come to a screeching halt just because she got involved in a risqué game of Truth or Dare or because she kissed Michael when she’d only just started growing closer to Dean. I’ll admit I have a soft spot for Michael, but I was truly torn between both love interests for much of the book, and I loved that.
And you know what else I loved? The plot. I adore character-led stories, but there’s something so refreshing about this book’s plot-driven style – it delivers on every level, from action to plot twists to intriguing teasers for the next-in-series. The deeper I was drawn into The Naturals, the more I knew I could rely on it to consistently bring story as well as character. Cassie is not only discovering a new world of case files and evidence inventories, but revisiting an old one, a time of blurred memories, dangerous secrets and ultimately, the image of her mother’s blood splattered across a taped-up crime scene. Short chapters placed at intervals to Cassie’s narrative give a chilling insight into the mind of a killer who is getting closer and closer to the events of the main story – and as readers scramble to guess the identity of the mystery narrator, it’s apparent that he or she is attacking with a frequency that puts Cassie – and the entire Naturals team – in danger. I’m not going to give away any spoilers, but I will say that the problem-solving and profiling aspects of this book really make it stand out. It really engages the reader and asks you to invest in the story.
The Naturals is whip-smart but it’s also brutal. It had more violence and gore than I usually like in my YA reads, but that was really my only issue with the book. The writing style is matter-of-fact but retains its flair – and as it’s a crime thriller, I suppose fight scenes and near-death experiences are pretty inevitable facets of the genre. Luckily, the plot and characters more than made up for my misgivings, and I absolutely can’t wait to read the sequel come September.
In short: The Naturals is original, thrilling and engaging, with a fantastic plot and glimmers of romance that ensure it delivers on every level. The storytelling is magnificent and it stands out from the crowd. Highly recommended and totally worth a read.
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