We meant to have our review for The Naturals up yesterday, but a technical glitch meant it stayed a draft until just now. Doh!
Expected publication: November 5th 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
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.
Things that worked:
First things first: I loved the fact that the characters all had abilities that were innate. They weren't aliens, they didn't get struck by the elements, they just happened to be born with abilities that allow them to be more perceptive than the average human being.
There's been such a strong emphasis on super-powered teens in YA, I immediately took to Jennifer's characters when I realized that they just happened to be teens with unusual talents.
While the characters populating the world of The Naturals do fit some of the standard YA tropes – the sassy snarky girl; the handsome troubled boy; the nerdy girl, etc. – Barnes does a good job of using in-world reasons for explaining why the characters are, the way they are.
A published writer friend recently described good plotting as the "author's way of drawing you through a book, pulling you to the end of the story."
Jennifer Barnes does this exceptionally well. From the very first page, she sets up a compelling backstory for Cassie, and slowly begins unveiling the details and backstory which draws the readers into the heart of the story, and into Cassie’s burgeoning understanding of how the Naturals and the Bureau works.
However, the story wasn’t all just unveiling details and exposition. At several points, Barnes dropped the type of bombshells that had me sitting up right and eagerly tapping on my Nook, in the hopes of finding out more.
* World building
While we don’t necessarily get all the answers to Cassie’s world – e.g. what is it genetically, that makes people more predisposed to displaying Natural-esque abilities? –I did like what we did get.
Barnes adds a lot of the small details – e.g. Cassie’s grandmother fussing over her; a main character’s (shocking) background; the unsolved cold cases that the Bureau hasn’t been able to solve; that made the world they lived in feel rich and fresh.
* The ending
The ending settled the plotline, but it also left open enough storylines and loose ends to keep the Naturals in business for a long, long time. I can’t wait!
* The cover
I liked the original cover, but I love the final cover. It's creative, eye-catching and fits the plot in more ways than one. So massive props to the cover designer(s)!
Things that didn't work:
Without giving any spoilers away, it sort of felt like Barnes was interpreting how she thought the Bureau worked, verses how it actually works. She made some assumptions on employment and work practices that weren't exactly...accurate.
While I don't necessarily see these assumptions bothering younger YA readers, I did feel that Barnes's interpretation on employment/work sort of undermined the intelligence and deductive capabilities of a lot of characters, and also made the antagonist seem more clever than they actually were.
* The love triangle
While I thought that the two love interests that Barnes had created for Cassie were compelling and intriguing - one of them had a background that genuinely shocked me, and I couldn't wait to find out more - I just didn't think that the love triangle was necessary for the plot.
Cassie's up against some pretty difficult obstacles throughout the course of the book, one of which was life-threatening. It didn't make sense to me that she would be distracted by the possibility of boys, when she didn't know whether she would live to see tomorrow or not.
However, I will totally concede that sometimes people react unexpectedly in times of high stress, and it's fully possible that I would have reacted similarly in such a situation when I was younger.
I would recommend this book for fans of Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Starseries, and Meg Cabot's Meg Cabot's 1-800-Where-R-U series. I would also recommend this book for readers who like contemporary books, with a hint of the supernatural.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of The Naturals from Disney Hyperion via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! :)
About the author:
Jen graduated high school in 2002, and from Yale University with a degree in cognitive science (the study of the brain and thought) in May of 2006.