Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

17-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people.  Within a few moments she can tell you more about a person than they probably even realize about themselves.  She’s not psychic, just a natural born profiler.  Which is how she gets recruited into an FBI program that seeks to nurture these natural talents of various teens, including human lie detectors, empaths and more.  No one in the program is who they seem to be and Cassie won’t know who to trust when a package arrives at the front door making it clear that the current case they are working is personal.  Cassie’s life is at stake but who can she trust?  And what does it all have to do with her mother’s murder years ago?

Totally irrelevant background information: I am a Criminal Minds junkie, in part because I love Dr. Reid.  I can’t watch the episodes about children or sexual violence, and I definitely watch it less as it has gotten more graphic.  But The Naturals is a great read for fans of CSI, Criminal Minds, Psych, The Mentalist and more.  It is chock full of information that we all seem interested in even when we wonder why we are.  I don’t know about you, but true crime and serial killers are a huge draw at my library.  This is a great read-alike for those fans.  It is also a great read-alike for Sherlock fans.  I was a satisfied reader and definitely recommend this title.  Read on.

Cassie is a great leading female character: strong and confident but realistic and conflicted.  Not perfect in any way, but also not milquetoast.  There is Dean, also a profiler, who keeps his distance, for which it turns out he has excellent reasons.  There is Michael, sarcastic and good at reading emotions, which makes lying difficult.  There are a few other female teens and a couple of adult agents/mentors/teachers.  It was an interesting cast of characters.  They play a mean game of Truth or Dare.  Note to self: don’t play truth or dare when someone in the group can tell if people are lying.  As a side note, it was pretty awesome that these teens had talents that weren’t really paranormal in nature: no viruses (Blackout by Robison Wells), no abilities to literally be unseen (Nobody by, oddly enough, Jennifer Lynn Barnes), and no Buffy-like demon hunting awesomesauce (Every Other Day, also by Jennifer Lynn Barnes).  Don’t get me wrong, I actually love all of those books too.  But these talents are more along the Sherlock vibe of just being super observant and using your intellect than X-men like powers.

This is actually a really well developed mystery/thriller where the dots connect together well.  There are lots of little tidbits in there about serial killers, profiling, etc.  Needless to say, there is blood splatter, bombs, and talk of sex.  You can’t really talk about serial killers without mentioning gore and sex things.  It is not as graphic as Criminal Minds (or even the excellent I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga for that matter), but you will definitely want to keep in mind that it is about teenagers investigating cold cases and serial killers and recommend appropriately.

There is a little love triangle –  which I am totally over in all YA fiction at the moment – but it didn’t bother me as much in this book because the story itself was so good.  I had not real leanings toward either character for most of the story, but there are definitely some interesting things that happen here and will need to be further explored.  Many readers will probably be choosing teams, because that is apparently what we do when there are love triangles.  But if you are not a love triangle girl (raises hand), there is so much goodness here that it just won’t matter.  Cassie is interesting, the plot is interesting, the discussion of the behind the scenes training is interesting.

The best part: It is set up so that there can be more books in the series and the biggest mystery of all is not solved.  I really liked this book and would love to see it as a continuing series and I think teen readers will as well.  Definitely recommended.  Coming in November from Disney Hyperion. ISBN: 9781423168232