By Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Available now from Miramax (Disney Hyperion)
Read my review of Raised by Wolves
Jennifer Lynn Barnes is one of those authors that routinely has interesting new books coming out but has never found mainstream success. Personally, I'm very fond of her work. She's not someone who comes to mind when I'm making favorites lists, but I've never been disappointed by one of her books.
THE NATURALS is the story of Cassie, a seventeen-year-old girl who is a natural at profiling, who joins a group of teens at the FBI who have their own natural special abilities that can be used to solve crimes. They each have their own reason for wanting to spend their days studying serial killers, statistics, and other related topics. Cassie is driven by the unsolved murder of her mother, whose body was never found.
Obviously, that becomes relevant to the case the teens find themselves pursuing.
What really makes THE NATURALS work is the characters. Cassie falls into a love triangle with Michael and Dean, but it doesn't seem forced. They're attractive, intelligent guys and while they're both a bit standoffish at first, they explain their reasons and are generally perfectly nice to her. The other girls, Lia and Sloane, both develop on their own. Cassie becomes closer to Sloane, and not just because they're roommates. All five teens have their own personalities. It made me kind of sad that THE NATURALS is a standalone, because I'd like to see how their relationships would develop.
I'm totally not sad it's a standalone. More standalones!
As for the detecting, it could use a little work. THE NATURALS has a villain POV, a trope I'm not hugely fond of. In this case, I don't think it really added or detracted from the story. There are a few gory moments in those passages that might turn off more sensitive readers. The kids aren't experts, of course, despite their abilities, but I wished they'd contributed more to finding out who the killer is. The identity is a plot twist instead of a mystery solved by the characters. That keeps things exciting, but I found it left satisfying after I finished.
THE NATURALS is a quick, fun read that will appeal to fans of ensemble procedurals. I like that it doesn't resolve absolutely everything and that while there is a love triangle, it comes in a distant second to catching murderers. The premise is a little silly, but I like bought into it, especially since a large part of the book is the characters training to use their talents effectively. This isn't Barnes' strongest book, but it probably has the broadest appeal.