The Naturals, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

We have been enjoying Jennifer Lynn Barnes's books for years—all the way back to 2008's The Squad: Perfect Cover. Her early stories were fun, if shaky, but it's been a pleasure to follow the steady improvement of her work. So many authors have one good (or good-ish) idea and go downhill from there; Barnes is among the few who have sharpened their style with every book.

Barnes's latest effort is The Naturals, which for some weeks was inexplicably placed in the children's section of my local Barnes and Noble, where it seriously does not belong*. Cassie Hobbes is a teenage waitress with a natural gift for profiling people—a talent that her professional-psychic mother encouraged her to develop to its fullest. But after her mother is violently kidnapped, the FBI invites Cassie to join a secret training program centered around kids with similar gifts: “naturals” at profiling, detecting lies, reading emotions, and recognizing patterns. The FBI hopes to improve their techniques by observing the teens' methods, so Cassie and her new friends are given cold cases to solve... including a few that may shed some light on her mother's disappearance.

There are several TV shows that cover similar ground, so bits of The Naturals feel a little shopworn, and I was easily able to guess the villain—not due to sloppy writing, but simply because of the type of role the character played in the story. Offsetting these minor weaknesses are the book's many strengths: a smart, capable heroine, a well-balanced romantic dilemma, entertaining minor characters, and a roller-coaster plot. But the best thing about The Naturals is Barnes's consistently entertaining but totally unshowy writing style, which slides down so smoothly that her story feels like it organically grew upon the page. Teen (and adult) fans of action and suspense should enjoy the hell out of it.

*It was recently moved to the teen section, which is way more appropriate for a book that kicks off each section with a lingering look into the mind of a serial killer.
Posted by: Julianka


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