A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that THE NATURALS is the first book in a mystery/thriller series pitched by author Jennifer Lynn Barnes as The Mentalist-meets-Pretty Little Liars. It's about a girl named Cassie, who's recruited to work with the FBI to solve cold murder cases. Cassie lives with a small group of fellow teens with special, "natural" abilities in Quantico, Virg., where the FBI is located. They're trained in behavioral and psychological techniques, as well as in analyzing crime scenes, to catch serial killers. Scenes of kidnappings, murder, and torture are described. Characters are stabbed, shot, seriously hurt, and killed. There's mild flirting and one shared kiss. No strong language.
What's the story?
Years ago, Cassie's mother was killed, but her body was never found. This has haunted Cassie through childhood and into her teens, and she misses her mother very much. She lives with her grandmother but feels she doesn't belong. So, when the FBI recruits Cassie because of her \"natural\" ability to gauge people's emotions and background information just from looking at them, she jumps at the chance to change her life. She ends up living in Virginia with a group of other teens who have special abilities (e.g., pathological lying, mathematical deductive reasoning), whom the FBI believes will help solve cold murder cases. While solving a major case, Cassie hopes she also can find the answers to her mother's murder.
Is it any good?
The concept behind THE NATURALS is kind of interesting, but it doesn't work for various reasons. The big one: It's hard to accept the premise that the FBI would hire a bunch of kids (who aren't even attending high school) to solve crimes, especially ones involving serial killers. At one point, Cassie wonders if the FBI even knows the "Naturals" program exists, except for the two agents who recruited her. Readers may suspend disbelief for the sake of pure entertainment, but the novel's all over the place. It's predictable and full of cliches (a love triangle, insta-love, missing parents) and has unlikable characters.
Barnes seems to have done some research into the mind of a serial killer. However, she doesn't convey how the FBI really works and that being a criminal profiler takes more than just reading books at the library and checking people out at the mall. The Naturals is trying too hard to be a teen version of Silence of the Lambs. Some parts are suspenseful and creepy, but there's a lot of information that pops up out of the blue, leaving readers wondering if they missed something. Also, the ending is extremely confusing -- who killed who, who's bad, and who's good?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about crime stories in books and on TV. Is it important for them to accurately reflect real police work? Crime dramas on TV, for example, often show crime-scene technicians wearing high heels to a crime scene. How does The Naturals compare with these kinds of TV shows?
Cassie has the natural ability to figure out things, including the inner workings of people's minds and their behavior. Why can't Cassie solve her mother's murder if she can figure out other murders?
Cassie discovers things about her mother and her family. Why do you think Cassie's mother didn't tell her about her family history and past? Why keep it a secret?
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