Title: The Naturals
Series: The Naturals, #1
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult
Release Date: November 5th, 2013
Length: 308 pages/7 hours, 30 minutes
Source: Borrowed from my local library
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. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.
What Cassie 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. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.
Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. 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.
I seem to be picking better and better gems in the contemporary YA genre these days. Yay me! This one was a relatively quick listen, well produced and narrated. Cassie is a smart, observant, very curious girl whose brain is naturally bent toward observation and analysis. Her voice felt authentic and I actually admired her as a protagonist. Even in the midst of teenage love triangle woes (I’ll get to that in a minute), she makes smart decisions, and she calls herself on it when she’s tending toward a bad decision.
The Naturals, the group of teenagers working with the FBI, have almost preternatural skills toward observation and analysis. The author cleverly leaves it open to interpretation- is this an element of the fantastical, or is this just a level of empathetic genius? It allows a sense of the possible within the narrative, which helps support the fact that this goes from X-Men-esque teen drama to crime/thriller. The Naturals are all distinctive, and I like that the author avoids cliches (for instance, the girl who can see patterns, has an eidetic memory, and is awkward and geeky is also a kleptomaniac, a coffee fiend, and cued in to the emotions of the house). There is the typical spread of dangerous teens, but it struck me more like The Breakfast Club than 90210. By the end of the book, I wanted to follow Cassie for more, but I also wanted to get to know Dean, Michael, Leah, and Sloane.
Speaking of, the pacing was really well done. I don’t know how long Cassie was in the D.C. house before Stuff Went Down, but the whole plot seems to take place across maybe 3-4 weeks. Nothing ever lagged, and it actually ended much more quickly than I expected.
There is a love triangle, yes. Those are never actually needed, especially when we’re talking about teenagers (who bring enough angst to the table). In this book, at least, there wasn’t a demonizing of one love interest to make the other appear the right choice. In fact, I was thinking perhaps Cassie would choose C) None of the above. For the sake of drama, I’m sure the triangle will be resolved in a later book. To be honest, I really liked both of the candidates for romance, so maybe Barnes will surprise me and they’ll enter in a polyamorous relationship or something?
If you’re thinking the plot sounds very Criminal Minds, you’d be correct. Barnes clearly did her research (beyond watching the show) now only about how the FBI solves cases, and criminal profiling, but also about forensics and crime statistics. If, like me, you loved Criminal Minds, you’ll probably enjoy this book. I do recommend it for fans of contemporary YA, crime/thriller YA, and very observant protagonists.