The Naturals (The Naturals #1)
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes (website | twitter)
Source: Toronto Public Library
Publication date: Nov 5, 2013; Paperback release: Oct 7, 2014
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Buy it: Indigo | IndieNext | Amazon | BookDepository | B&N
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.
Do not read The Naturals at night. Especially not when you’re audiobooking it and trying to fall asleep. I had to keep resetting my sleep timer each night because I couldn’t stop listening- I needed to get to a point in book where I wasn’t creeped out.
The story follows Cassie Hobbs, who was born with a natural gift for understanding behavior. Cassie is a bit damaged because her mother was murdered when she was twelve, and her father is a senator whom she hardly ever sees. So when the FBI – in the form of Michael, a hot emotion-reader – shows up at her summer job with an offer to train her as a profiler, along with other “Naturals”, she jumps at the chance to meet other people who are like her. What she doesn’t realize is that being in the program will put her right in the line of fire with someone who knows all about her mother’s murder.
While the plotting is familiar and somewhat predictable for a mystery, what made this book stand out was the research that the author did into profiling. We learn a lot about Cassie’s gift for behavior analysis, and what makes a killer tick. It’s both frightening and completely fascinating. Cassie joins another natural profiler in the program, Dean, who is not pleased that Cassie has decided to join up. He makes it clear that getting into a killer’s head can destroy you emotionally.
And yet, I felt that, like Cassie, I would have stayed anyway – not only does Cassie need to know more about her mother’s killer, but this is the only place where she feels like she can be herself. It’s exciting for Cassie to be around people who might not completely understand her, but at least know how it feels to see the world very differently.
What I liked most about this book was how pitch-perfect the characters were, and the surprisingly solid love-triangle – yes, there is one, but it doesn’t take center stage. Even though I know who I’d choose in the triangle, I definitely felt like it was a balanced rendering of love interests.
For me, the writing felt a bit cliche – I never felt wowed by it. I also found that Cassie was a little bit too angsty at times for me – when I felt she needed to act or if there was a clue, she was often distracted – a classic mystery tactic, but one I felt that I could see through.
Nevertheless, I still found the story compelling and at times, terrifying. Jennifer Lynn Barnes knows her subject, and isn’t afraid to make the story brutal and real. The audiobook version I read was excellent, with narrator Amber Faith taking the time to create distinct voices to each of the characters, giving weight and drama to the climax of the story. I didn’t expect this to be a Halloween read for me, but it totally was. And yes, I’m a wimp.
The Final Word:
The Naturals is like CSI or Criminal Minds for teens. If you’re a fan of those shows, or you like dark YA thrillers, this one might be for you. The subject matter is strong, and the love triangle is solid. The second book in this series, Killer Instinct, comes out November 4th, and I will probably be reading it, but I’m definitely going to have to psych myself up for it!
The NATURALS just came out in paperback! Have you read it? If you have, will you be picking up the sequel, KILLER INSTINCT in November? Are you interested in serial killers, procedurals, or FBI books like I am? Do you read mysteries? Do you get more scared by “real-life” horror stories than paranormal ones like me? Hit the comments and let me know!