Friday, November 1, 2013

Me on The Naturals

Title: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Release Date: November 5, 2013
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

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.

The Naturals is a modern murder mystery, a book that pushes teens to get into the minds of killers in order to understand why they commit crimes, and so it's an intriguing and curious sort of book. As clues are uncovered and secrets are revealed, as the killer gets closer and closer to their target, the tension builds and the reader is forced to question everyone's motives constantly.

Cassie may be a natural at reading people, at profiling them, at predicting what they might or might not do, but that doesn't mean she won't get carried away when it comes to certain things. Certain very personal things. She's intelligent, and she's gifted, but there's a huge chip on her shoulder. But, after she gets picked up by the FBI, she discovers she's not the only one. Like most characters in similar books, she wants to solve the mystery and keep everyone around her safe, but keeping things to herself puts her in danger.

It feels like a different sort of murder mystery, exploring more of the psychology of profiling and crime scene examination. Looking at why the killer does for what purpose and predicting what actions will be taken next. Again, it seems like a more modern and scientific approach as opposed to following clues and talking to witnesses like in an older police drama one would find on TV in the 1990's. The modern techniques and present day setting provide a kind of realism, they add a kind of believability and relevance.

The Naturals sort of straddle the line between paranormal and incredibly intelligent and perceptive. Once I got past the outrageous idea that the FBI would willingly recruit teens for a secret project, I warmed to the five teens that could see patterns and spot social cues that other adults couldn't, that they could see crimes from different sides. They did feel a little like stock characters, the stoic brooding one and the joking but also serious one and the intelligent one and the liar and the (almost) orphan, but I enjoyed the moments when all five were together and their different personalities would clash.

The separate 'You' chapters serve to provide glimpses of the killer's actions and thoughts, but also that something is going on in the background while Cassie starts this new stage of her life in the foreground. When the book started, I figured anyone could be the killer.

It's easy to picture this as the start of a series, there's some clear definition in what the bigger overall story will include and what was mostly wrapped up in the single story of the book, but looking back I wonder how much was really revealed. We don't really learn much about the other Naturals, or about the program in its entirely (or how many secrets it really keeps), or even everything about Cassie. So much is there waiting to be revealed, explored, and even manipulated. The fast pace, while I found it fit with the immediacy of the killings, leaves no room for extra knowledge about the characters, and I want to know more about them. Hopefully, they will be explored more as the series goes on.

(I received an e-galley of this title to review from Disney Book Group through NetGalley.)

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