The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Published: 7 November 2013 (Quercus)
Format: Paperback (proof)
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Source: Received free proof copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Quercus!
Plot Summary (from Goodreads):
Cassie Hobbes is not like most teenagers. Most teenagers don’t lose their mother in a bloody, unsolved kidnapping. Most teenagers can’t tell who you are, where you’re from and how you’re likely to behave within moments of meeting you. And most teenagers don’t get chosen to join The Naturals.
Identified by the FBI as uniquely gifted, Cassie is recruited to an elite school where a small number of teens are trained to hone their exceptional abilites.
For Cassie, trying to make friends with the girls, and to figure out the two very different, very hot boys, is challenging enough. But when a serial killer begins recreating the details of her mother’s horrific crime scene, she realises just how dangerous life in The Naturals could be...
I've been seeing this book featured in Waiting on Wednesday posts for a while and it had really piqued my interest! The Naturals follows Cassie Hobbes, who has a talent for reading body language, as she finds herself whisked away to Washington to join fellow gifted teens who are being trained up by the FBI.
I was really excited by the premise for this one because FBI? Yes please! When the book arrived I thought I'd just read the first couple of pages to see what it was like, and after that I just could not put it down. I was hooked instantly! It felt so different to anything I've read before. It was darker, and as a huge fan of crime and thrillers, I was completely on board with that. I read a lot of this type of book in my adult reading, but not so much in YA. I want more YA like this please!
The Naturals is full of mystery and suspense, has a good deal of gore and will have your heart pounding for sure! This is my first book by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and it's safe to say it won't be my last. The writing was so sharp. I found the dialogue snappy and realistic, especially the conversations between the groups of teens which never felt forced or awkward. Barnes has the dynamic between them spot on. Throughout the book there was great humour on top of that fantastic tension, and book is incredibly fast-paced. I wasn't bored once!
I think the characters were a real winner for me. There was such a great mix of personalities. I really liked Cassie herself. When we meet her, she's working as a waitress (and hating it) and living with her Nonna. Her mother has been missing presumed dead for years, and her father isn't present in her life. The opening scenes where we get to see her wicked ability at reading body language were some of my favourites. It was great to get inside her head and see this rare ability she has. Early in the book we're introduced to Michael who I loved. Like, a lot. He may be rich and snobby but he was also quite funny and I loved the tension between him and Cassie. I thought Cassie's new roommate Sloane was brilliant too. Her talent is numbers and probabilities and she just jumps in with all these facts and figures all the time, usually when it's least appropriate! Then there's bitchy Lia who I sort of loved to hate. You need a bad girl in there. My love of these characters was firmly cemented during a game of truth and dare, which was both entertaining and got inside the heads of each character.
Now I know not everyone likes a love triangle, but there is a bit of that in The Naturals. When Cassie moves into the house with the other teens on her program, two guys are vying for her attention. Another girl in the house also throws herself into the mix as a rival for both boys, so I guess you could even say it's a love square. So I've already mentioned Michael, but then there's Dean - a profiler like Cassie. He spends the whole book being moody and mysterious. I was definitely intrigued by him, and I wanted to find out more. I thought his back story was really interesting and the scenes with him and Cassie working together were scenes I liked because they made a great team. But deep down I am all about Michael. Maybe because he's introduced first and my heart was already set on him. Either way, I'm dying to talk to people who have read this book so I can probe them about who they liked better! Even if you don't like love triangles, I wouldn't let that put you off. Both guys are great characters, and the book is definitely more action focused than romance focused. Cassie's attention is definitely more on the work at hand than on the boys.
The FBI program Cassie ends up in provides the book with a fantastic plot. Cassie and the others end up looking at a number of old cases to try and get to grips with their skills, but all the while the agents training them are working on a real life, current mystery which carries on throughout the book. The main chapters from Cassie's POV are interspersed with chapters simply titled "You" and written in second person. These provide a glimpse of what is going on in the bigger mystery and ramped up the suspense. Those chapters felt like right out of a crime novel and were extremely dark, which I loved. The Naturals feels very much like a TV show. My instant comparison is to that show Criminal Minds (a show that focuses on the team profiling the killer) which is where I first heard the term UNSUB - used in The Naturals to describe an unknown subject. If you're a fan of that kind of show then definitely grab this book!
The Naturals is full of twists and turns and cliffhangers. There was one twist about halfway through the story that I had seen coming for a while. That did disappoint because to me it was a bit too obvious, and yet Cassie who is supposedly incredibly smart hadn't gotten there at all. Saying that, the rest of the book builds to an incredible climax. The final few chapters had me reading, jaw dropped because despite my earlier reservations, there was one huge twist I just hadn't seen coming! I was not expecting that reveal so I was pleasantly surprised and shocked when it came. I'm still reeling from that ending!
I really hope this is a start to a series because there is huge potential for these characters, and the ending kind of hints at more to come. The Naturals was a refreshing read that isn't afraid to dive head first into that dark, criminal world. It was exciting to be able to read a YA novel like this and I hope to see more of this kind of book in the future. I'm really excited to read more by this author.
What to read next: The Naturals is the first in a planned series
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