The Naturals


Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Publication: 2013, Disney-Hyperion

Pages: 320

Overall Rating: bth_45_zps06f87659[1]

Rating for Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_2-star-rating-1_zps4cdc0d23[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Cassie is a natural when it comes to profiling people, getting inside their head and figuring out who they are and how they think.  It’s a skill she learned from her mother, and not one she’s taken all that seriously until the FBI approaches her.  They want to recruit her for The Naturals, a small group of teens with natural talents in profiling, crime scene analysis, lie detection, and reading emotions.  She’ll be trained and put to work solving cold cases for the agency.  But what starts as the opportunity of a lifetime turns deadly when a new killer strikes – one who seems obsessed with Cassie.

Age of Main Character: 17

What I Liked the Most: This is a whodunit, and Barnes manages to keep you guessing right up until the end with at least three very possible suspects.  I had my suspicions, but she did an admirable job of constantly throwing me off.  So while I wasn’t entirely surprised when the killer was finally revealed, the ride to get there was a lot of fun.

She also intersperses Cassie’s narrative with brief scenes from the killer’s perspective, delving into the killer’s mind, into their twisted needs and desires.  Each of these chapters starts off the same way, with the same word – You.  For example – You.  You’ve chosen and chosen well.  Maybe this one will be the one that stops you.  This is particularly effective because throughout the book Cassie and her fellow profiler, Dean, spend a lot of time speaking as though they themselves were killers.  It’s a technique they use to get into the mind of the suspect.  And when she’s doing it, Cassie always refers to the person she’s profiling as You.  So when we get to those chapters featuring the killer it is deeply creepy.

As for the profiling itself, it really felt like Barnes had done her research – like she knew how profilers think, how they hone their craft, how they operate.  Which gave the book something like a birds-eye view into the world of professional FBI criminal profilers.

What I Liked the Least: Most teen spy books eventually have to address the question of how they are able to be a part of the program without their parents objecting.  That doesn’t really happen here.  While we do know that two of the students have a dad in federal prison (and presumably no mom), Cassie has a family that cares deeply about her and the FBI more or less lies to them about what the program is and what Cassie will be doing.  I can’t see the FBI risking that, which is why most books in this genre use orphans – so there are no parents to object.  This didn’t in any way lessen my enjoyment of the book, but it did make the FBI program a tad less believable.

How Good was the Action? Well, there really isn’t much in the way of action here. A brief scene at the end, but even that is more psychological than genuine action.  This is primarily a mystery with a healthy dose of the academy genre.  And while there’s no real action there’s psychological drama in spades.  The scenes where you find yourself inside the mind of a killer are truly disturbing, and as I listened I couldn’t help wondering how Barnes could possibly have managed to write them without giving herself nightmares.

How Engaging was the Story? Barnes does an excellent job of getting you inside Cassie’s head and turning her into a living, breathing person.  Her fellow naturals are equally alive, and with enough quirks to make each of them fairly unique.  The program Cassie goes through provides a wonderful mix of fun lessons in criminal profiling, character-rich hang-out time, romance, and criminal investigation as they killer closes in.  Cassies has a VERY personal connection to this case, and the closer the killer gets the harder the book is to put down.     

Overall Assessment: The Naturals offers up a colorful and unique cast of characters, a chilling glance into the mind of a killer, and suspenseful cat-and-mouse game of murder.

Profanity: Minimal.

Sex: A few kisses, a bit of mild making out, a slightly risqué game of Truth or Dare, and a girl who likes to push the boundaries on flirting and sexy attire.

Violence: This is a book about a serial killer, but beyond a bit of not particularly vivid violence towards the end, what we mostly get are some moderately bloody descriptions of crime scenes and photos of victims.  That said, the action is interspersed with scenes that put you inside the mind of the serial killer, and while those scenes might not be violent they are extremely disturbing.

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