THE NATURALS - Jennifer Lynn Barnes

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. - Goodreads description


As you might know if you read my other blog, I'm more than slightly obsessed with Criminal Minds, the TV show about a team of FBI profilers (based on the work of John Douglas, a real-life profiler whose book, Mindhunter, is one of my favourites). This team travels around the USA, working on cases involving serial killers or other cases where their skills could help identify the perpetrator.

I also may have a minor obsession with Garcia.

Their particular skills allow them to analyze crime scenes, signatures and MOs to come up with a (spookily accurate) profile of the likely killer, right down to their age and what may have motivated the crime.

I love crime shows, but this one in particular has fascinated me. The idea of being able to learn that much about a killer based solely on evidence is pretty amazing - plus it's interesting to see what motivates extremes of behaviour - murder being one pretty big extreme.

But I digress. This book is kind of like a cross between Criminal Minds and another show I love - The Mentalist - about an expert at reading people. In The Naturals, Barnes creates an FBI program that seeks out teenagers who have a "natural" skill or ability that is useful to the FBI. The talents of the kids in the program vary - one is a natural lie detector, another sees patterns in the world around her that help to crack codes and notice similarities between crimes, another reads emotions based on body language, and two are natural profilers.

The idea behind the program is to foster their natural abilities early on before too much "real life" gets to them and messes them up. Of course, since they're still kids, they're not able to help on current cases - but there are plenty of cold ones for them to hone their skills on.


The main character, Cassandra, is one of the natural profilers, explained by the fact that she was brought up by a "psychic" to read people based on physical and behavioural clues. Very much like Patrick Jane, also known as The Mentalist.

Cassie is the most recent recruit to the program. Her decision to join it was largely influenced by a horrific event in her own life - when she opened the door to her mother's dressing room to find her mother gone, and the room soaked in blood. Her mother's body was never found, and she's spent five years wondering what happened to her.

When she joins the program she hopes that at some point she'll have the opportunity to look into her mother's cold case, maybe even find some answers. What she doesn't expect is to become a target herself. She doesn't expect to find herself standing in a room with a dead body lying on the ground in front of her.

And she really doesn't expect to have to question everyone around her.

Because of my fascination with Criminal Minds and anything along the same lines, I loved the premise of this book. Sure, the whole "naturals" thing is a bit hokey, but that's okay. I thought it was hokey for the first season of The Mentalist, too, and look how great that show turned out to be.

I also read a couple of reviews that said the book was a bit disappointing. But I actually really enjoyed it. I was completely riveted almost from the beginning, and by the time Cassie had joined the program I couldn't put down the book. I read the entire thing in 24 hours.

There was a good deal of suspense and escalation of the plot, and I was definitely going, "Wait... what?" when I hit the final climax. There was also a lot of bloody description - more than I expected from a Young Adult crime. I even had chills once or twice.

I guess the only down side was a little too much teen love triangle drama (though I liked that it was more possible-crush-triangle since they'd all just met. No insta-love here!) - and not enough character development to make me care much about it.

I would have been totally cool with the book being about twice as long - partly to allow for more character development, and also to draw out the suspense more. As much as I was enthralled by it, the plot moved so quickly that it was in blink-and-you'll-miss-it territory for about the last third of the book. And it was well written, so I wouldn't have gotten bored if it had been longer.

I'm not entirely clear on whether this is a series. I really hope it is, because there is so much here that could still be developed. This storyline alone left some dangling strings that need to be tied up, but in addition to that, Barnes has created an intriguing cast of characters, and I'm really hoping she'll explore the backstory and abilities of each one in turn. That would make me happy.

If you're a fan of crime - particularly psychological thrillers - but looking for a light, quick read, this is a great book to pick up. You'll enjoy it. Though it might keep you up for a night or two!


Book Title: The Naturals
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Edition: Hardback
Published by: Hyperion
Released: November 5, 2013
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Psychological Thriller, FBI, Profiling, Crime
Pages: 308
ISBN: 9781423168232
Date Read: November 14-15, 2013
Rating: 8/10


  1. Great review! I've been wanting to read this one soooo bad. I'm not always as into crime novels, but this one just sound interesting. Besiiiiiides, that cover!

    Also, lovely GIF of Dean.

    1. Thanks! I really enjoyed this book - it did a good job of toeing the line between YA and scary thriller. I'm just crossing my fingers it becomes a series at this point. The cover was definitely what drew me in - I'm totally guilty of picking books based on appearance. I'm shallow like that.

      Is there really such a thing as an unlovely GIF of Dean, though? ;)


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