Title: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Publication Date: 2013
Price: $17.99 (hardcover) $9.99 (paperback)
Genre: Mystery & Crime
Interest Age: 12 to 17
Lexile Age: 690
Annotation: 17-year old profiler, Cassie, joins a secret program in the FBI to help solve cold cases.
Plot Summary: Seventeen year old Cassie used to travel the country with her psychic mom. Taught at a young age to read people, Cassie has a natural affinity for profiling and she uses it to help her mom out at her shows. This was her life until her mom disappeared from her dressing room one day. Now living with her grandparents, Cassie maintains a quiet life profiling customers in the diner she waitressing at. Until an FBI agent shows up and offers her a place in their off-the-books program. A program for teens like her to help solve cold cases. Desperate for answers about her mother, she joins hoping to solve the question of her mother’s disappearance one day. Soon she realizes that this program might be more than she bargained for and her fellow teens might take getting use to like Michael, who reads emotions like she reads people, Lia, a human lie detector, and Dean, a fellow profiler. When a case stumps the FBI and a serial killer makes contact, Cassie and her friends must piece together the pieces before the killer catches up to them.
Critical Evaluation: A page-turning thriller, The Naturals is the start of so-far a three book series. Barnes takes readers behind the scenes of crime-solving and criminal profiling through Cassie’s outsiders narrative as she enters the secret FBI program and meets other teens like her. The storytelling never feels clunky, even when describing the various processes behind solving crimes and the various characters have intriguing stories of their own. Besides Cassie’s narrative, Barnes interjects short chapters with a mysterious serial killer narrative keeping the story’s tone tense and creepy. The lack of supernatural will appeal to those teens who want a real no-nonsense action story. However, the secondary romantic love triangle is most unnecessary to the story, but it does help win some readers as it tempts them towards the following books. After all, this book does not answer who Cassie will end up with. While this book does venture toward potential challenging topics like serial killers and sexual crimes, Barnes does a fantastic job of not overly describing gory scenes or gratuitous violence. Great appeal for the younger teen set and for fans of I’ll Tell You I Love You, But Then I’ve to Kill You series or the Criminal Minds/Law and Order tv shows.
Author Bio: Jennifer Lynn Barnes has written several acclaimed young adult novels. She has advanced degrees in psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive science. She received her PhD from Yale University this year and is now a professor in psychology. You can find her online at http://www.jenniferlynnbarnes.com or follow her on Twitter @jenlynnbarnes. (from image)
Tie to Curriculum Units: Criminal Psychology
Booktalking Ideas: Criminal Minds(tv show) for teens, mysterious pasts, page turning thriller, serial killers, love triangle
Challenge Issues: The Naturals is a nominee for various state awards and has strong reviews from various review sources including this VOYA bit “Although the novel contains the same YA trope of so many—a girl finds herself attracted to two boys, one quiet and brooding, and the other charming, mysterious, and devastatingly handsome—the potential romance is only a small element of a tightly paced suspense novel that will keep readers up until the wee hours to finish.”