Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Five Star Spotlight - The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Today's Spotlight is on a book that is new, different, and thrilling for the YA genre. The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is a crime solving mystery that is completely different for YA. I hadn't read anything like this before, and while it can seem reminiscent of adult murder mysteries, this is a good, mature YA version that I prefer- it's fresh, the narrator is interesting, and I liked most of the characters and I loved the overall dynamics between them all. This book is 5 stars because it's new, exciting, and there are a lot of great qualities to it!


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.

See The Naturals on Goodreads          Visit the Author's Website

Now, I knew pretty early on this was probably going to be a 5 star book. At the beginning, I'd read 14 pages, and then the next time, I picked the book up and didn't put it down again until I finished all 308 pages. So, it's not a long book, but it was so engaging that I wanted to keep reading. Initially, I thought The Naturals was a paranormal about kids gifted with supernatural abilities. However, that's not really the premise of the book. Sure, Cassie and cohorts are exceptionally observant and this leads to them being able to see things and make connections and solve crimes. However, there is no supernatural cause that is expressly discussed in the book. Instead they are known as Naturals- naturally gifted in observation and mentally in different areas that are beneficial to this new, select program in the FBI to fight crime. Cassie is a profiler- she can take details and little quirks about people to reveal entire back stories and personalities. 

As soon as the agent mentions serial killers, and then the term UNSUB came into the book, I was thinking about Criminal Minds. If you're not familiar, Criminal Minds is a television show that predominantly focuses on serial crime and a team of FBI profilers that draw conclusions about the criminal based on the crimes and then solve the crime. It's a rather dark series because it also shows the criminals and their stories as well. The Naturals also does this, and there are sections with 'You' point of views that are disturbing and are from the criminal's point of view. At first, I was confused as to what reason there was for putting these in 2nd person instead of in another 3rd, but this is explained within the context of the book.

The characters in this book are really great together, and I liked most of them individually as well. Cassie, the protagonist, is a good narrator. She's interesting, especially with her observational abilities, and yet she also has a lot of character development. Cassie is different from the typical YA girl, and I appreciated that because she is such a big component of the story. The other kids in the program were good, as well. Sloane wasn't as big of a character, but I liked her contribution to the group's dynamic and how she was quiet yet spunky at points and added to whatever scene she was in. Dean and Michael were also good characters. Neither was the typical brooding 'bad boy'- they both have stories that aren't fully explained, but enough to understand more about them. Also, yes there is a love triangle, but I can't say for certain if I preferred one to the other, as each developed so well in the book and there was never a moment of clinging on to Cassie and declaring their insta-love. Instead this book took the time to develop them all as individuals, and I really thought that added to the world and also will benefit in the long term series development. (it isn't listed on Goodreads as a series, but the author mentions this on her website, and I'm really excited for more of these books!) I liked Dean and Cassie's relationship and how it developed, but there's a lot to Michael as well that happens in the book. What was really special about this was that no obvious choice was forced upon the characters in the beginning of the book- there's other books in the series to develop any sort of relationships, and that was a refreshing change to a romantic development in YA. In a first book, no clear choice should be made if they're all still meeting each other, and The Naturals was fantastic in avoiding classic YA love triangle tragedy. 

The only character I disliked in this book was Lia. Honestly, she reminds me of Isabelle Lightwood, and I never liked her character overmuch in The Mortal Instruments, and Lia takes Isabelle's more irksome traits and highlights them. However, I would say that her character is necessary to the kid's group dynamic overall, and that's noticeable in several scenes. So, the characters were all well made to fit their roles, and I think they had the perfect amount of development for a first book, and I can't wait to see more of them.

Now, let's talk about the plot of this. The story moved along very quickly, and as I said it was difficult to put down. So much happens, and things are very intense and suspenseful as Cassie is drawn into this world. There's the classic mystery plot twist, and it went two different ways. The first twist had me gasping out loud and being totally shocked. Then, the rest of the plot unfolded and while it wasn't as shocking, I think it contributed to the story line and characters more, and it was a good development. I don't want to talk too much about the plot because, as it's a crime solving mystery type, it's something the reader has to discover as they read along, but this was definitely well done. It's never too slow, which can be a complete loss for a mystery and crime book. It's well paced for a first book, and it was developed to really be a great first book without losing anything in character development or plot.

I think that this is a great read. It's new and different for YA- a psychological, crime solving mystery. There's an awesome cast of characters, and a well thought out plot. It's a stand out book and there's a lot of it that's new and exciting. I can't wait to see more of this series. The only disclaimer I would say is that it might be a little more dark of a YA read- it's psychological like the Mara Dyer trilogy and the scenes with the serial killer point of view are disturbing. I would just say that to warn ahead-this is not a light novel. It's dark in the sense of a lot of criminal psychology- very reminiscent of Criminal Minds. 

Overall, this is a great start to a new series. It's really different from anything I've read in YA. The Naturals is a really intense, psychological thriller. The characters are all different and well developed, with nothing too instantly characterized for a first book. I would recommend this, and I think that there's going to be a lot of awesome developments in this series.

From a paper world,


  1. I've wanted to read this book for a while, and your review makes me want to read it even more! Those parts from the criminal's point of view sound really creepy and intriguing! And the story reminds me of Veronica Mars. If you haven't watched that show, I highly recommend it! Great review!

    1. I'm glad you liked the review! And it's really good- very different from any YA I've read. The criminal POV is really creepy, until I figured out what it was I was confused. I've heard people mention Veronica Mars but I never really knew what it was- I'll have to check it out. Thanks for letting me know!


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