A Review of The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
by REBECCA, December 30, 2013
Cassie has an amazing ability to read people—to look at them and piece together the stories of their lives. Usually, she uses this talent to figure out whether someone will want wheat toast or rye, but when a mysterious boy leaves a card for her from an FBI agent, her whole life changes. Cassie is recruited into an experimental FBI program with other talented teens, for the purpose of using their exceptional skills to crack cold cases. When she arrives, it seems like Cassie’s biggest problem will be avoiding a love triangle. But when a serial killer’s victims strike close to home, Cassie finds herself using her skills on a case that’s far from cold—and she might just be the next victim. Duhn duhn duhn!
The Naturals was a joy to read. It’s very fast-paced, exciting, and has just enough mystery to be intriguing. The premise is one that I’m a total sucker for: people with the ability to see more than meets the eye. Sherlock Holmes, Inspecter Dupin, whatshisname from Lie To Me, whatshisname from Psych—I love watching experts at deduction or micro-expression reading or whatever at work. I love the idea that there are people to whom the sum of all our messy parts is deducible! So, basically, I was going into The Naturals already a fan of the concept. Add to it a group of teens who are geniuses at different types of hyper-sensing and they’re living together and trying to solve cases, and I’m on cloud nine.
And, in a lot of ways, The Naturals lived up to the promise of its concept. The mystery that begins once Cassie arrives at the FBI program was engaging, and the reveal felt pretty satisfying. Do I think some people will be able to solve the mystery? Yes. But I definitely always wanted to keep reading and cared about what happened anyway. It is, all in all, a clean, well-paced mystery with some fun characters and plenty of interpersonal teen tension.
For me, though, it was just a little bit too clean. And that cleanness permeated all aspects of The Naturals, from the mystery to the backstory. Most importantly, the characters are pretty solidly dull except for their powers of observation, deduction, and computation. Even Cassie, our protagonist, isn’t an interesting character; her ability is interesting, but she is only interesting insofar as she possesses it. One thing that was missing (and that would deepen the book a lot) was some insight into how these teens’ abilities had affected their real lives: their interactions with their peers, their relationships with family members, etc. Instead, we got no sense of the characters outside their narrowly defined abilities. Given this, further, I also would have liked a lot more about the ways in which they use their talents.
The whole thing just felt a little bit too slick and moved a little bit too fast for anything but the plot to matter. And I think that’s a shame, because there is so much to like about The Naturals. For example, Cassie’s unique powers of deduction through observation were developed because her mother used to work as a psychic, and Cassie would scout the crowd for her. That’s so cool! Looking for what? Who knows. Was she always so good at it? The title would suggest yes, but who knows. Was her mother good at it too? No idea. Did her ability make her feel . . . anything? Great question; don’t know. There is such potential for really complicated, awesome, deep psychological interest among these characters, but we don’t even know anything about our protagonist, much less the rest of them.
Often, such a lack of development portends the start of a new series, so I wonder if that will be the case with The Naturals. I would definitely welcome a sequel. All told, The Naturals is a totally engaging and enjoyable read—but it had the potential to be amazing. I can’t help but be a bit disappointed that it’s a rather sanitized version of such a gritty, dark concept.
Dream Catcher series, Lisa McMann (2008-9). Janie can’t help it: she gets sucked into other people’s dreams. When she falls into a different kind of terrifying nightmare, Janie isn’t just an observer—now she has a part to play.
Dark Visions series, L.J. Smith (1994-5). Kaitlyn Fairchild is psychic. Sick of people thinking she’s a witch, Kaitlyn accepts an invitation to go study at the Zetes Institute with other psychic teens. She’s told that she can learn the extent of her powers and become friends with others like her. The truth, of course, turns out to be a whole lot more sinister. Not as good as my beloved Secret Circle trilogy, but still enjoyable.
procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks! The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is available now.