Serial killer documentaries don’t catch my interest in and of themselves. In fact, I try to avoid them for the sake of my mental health. When I learned about The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, however, I made an exception due to the author and quickly went out in search of the young adult novel. The Naturals and each succeeding novel were written long enough ago that I needed to resort to buying off the internet. Amazon had The Naturals delivered to me by the very next day. I was over the moon, delighted and ready to spring into the book. I hope my short summarization and analysis will convince my reader to also pick up a copy of the novel. This story enthralled me nearly as much as The Inheritance Games did. I hope everyone can share in its joy.
The Naturals – The Summary
Readers can immediately peg Cassie—short for Cassandra—as someone different than her teenage peers. Based on how Cassie chooses to represent herself, most anyone who sees her simply sees a pretty and quiet young woman. Michael, a young man with his own extraordinary talents, knows Cassie is more than just young and pretty when he comes to invite her to the FBI. Cassie is a Profiler, an individual with the exceptional gift to understand a stranger’s personality, behavior, and environment within mere minutes of meeting the individual. She decides to take Michael up on his offer. Soon after meeting him, Cassie quits her job at the diner, drops out of school, and transfers to Washington D.C. to work in an FBI Program specifically designed for teenage prodigies.
Including Cassie, the program has five teens. There’s Michael who has the ability to read exactly what an individual is feeling at any given moment. Lia is the master of lies and deception, coupled with an incredible amount of sass and attitude. Sloane, a rather eccentric young woman with more than an encyclopedia’s worth of numbers and statistics, rooms with Cassie. And then there’s Dean, another Profiler who would do almost anything to keep Cassie in the dark about his past. All five teenagers gave up on their average existence to focus their energy on their unique skills, to solve cold cases of serial killers, and to have a little fun with each other in the process.
Living together in an old Victorian house, somewhat removed from FBI headquarters, the teens have more than enough drama and angst to spread around. Michael’s flirtations with Cassie soon put her at ease, and the attraction between her and Dean is undeniable. But when Cassie finally feels like she’s found a home—a place where she can feel normal and accepted—Lia strikes and causes a rift between Michael and Dean with Cassie in the middle. But more dangerous games are afoot.
A local serial killer has her sights pinned on Cassie, but the killer’s identity remains hidden. The teens and FBI agents are grasping at loose ends, playing into the serial killer’s hands. With an intimate knowledge of Cassie and her past, the killer recreates the room in which Cassie last saw her mother. Though the agents and Michael and Dean try to protect Cassie, she falls into the predator’s trap. In the end, Cassie comes face to face with the killer….
The Naturals – The Analysis
I had two small objections about the book as a whole. One, the main protagonist of the story is unrelatable, though I could sympathize with her need to find answers about her mother. Two, hearing from a serial killer’s perspective—even from the fictional outlook—is unnerving . How a killer would rationalize his or her deeds is information that I would rather not know. Other than these minor complaints, I thought The Naturals was a compelling and fascinating read. Reading about Cassie’s engagements with the other teen prodigies only furthered my interest.
Diving deeper and deeper into the book, I soon found myself openly guffawing at the interactions between Michael and Cassie, and between Cassie and Sloane. Lia’s ability to deceive and be snarky had my inner teen quaking and wanting to retreat, but not Cassie. The main protagonist was not only gifted, but intelligent and brave. She could discern patterns and behaviors that I could never have seen coming. Cassie responded with logic, learning more and more about personality, behavior, and environment, and implementing her knowledge in the dire situations that kept creeping toward her.
The love triangle between Michael, Cassie, and Dean was unexpected. Dean seems like the obvious choice for Cassie, seeing as they have a deeper understanding of how the other thinks. On the other hand, Michael doesn’t keep Cassie at arm’s length. He’s flirty and charming. He knows how Cassie is feeling whenever he sees her, but Cassie can’t read him. Michael is mysterious . Alternatively, Dean seems like he would be perfect for a solid and steady relationship. The decision of which young man will be with Cassie ultimately depends on Cassie because either young man would have her.
The dynamics of the various relationships, whether romantic or casual, kept me hooked for more. Barnes knows how to keep her readers on edge, and the speech she wrote for Michael to give to Cassie at the end absolutely sucked me in:
“You came after me,” I said.
“I’ll always come after you,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that made the words seem like more of a joke than a promise.
Something told me it was both.
“But you and Redding have something. I don’t know what it is. I don’t blame you for it.” On crutches, he couldn’t lean toward me. He couldn’t reach out and brush the hair out of my face. But something about the curve of his lips was more intimate than any touch. “A lot has happened. You have a lot to figure out. I can be a patient man, Colorado. A devastatingly handsome, roguishly scarred, heartbreakingly courageous, patient man.”
I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t bite back a smile.
The Naturals, p. 307
“So take whatever time you need. Figure out how you feel. Figure out if Dean makes you feel the way I do, if he’ll ever let you in, and if you want him to, because the next time my lips touch yours, the next time your hands are buried in my hair—the only person you’re going to be thinking about is me.”
The sections describing the serial killer’s thoughts and actions had my stomach in knots with the anxiety of how it would all turn out. Moreover, choosing between Michael and Dean for Cassie seems like an impossible feat to me, because I would hate to see anyone of these teen prodigies hurt. Ultimately, though, it was worth every painstaking second. I must know if Cassie ever finds out who killed her mother, if she can make a choice between the two young men, and how her life will turn out as she continues to work for the FBI. Overall, I give the novel an 8/10. While reading about a serial killer may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Barnes’ knack for writing a good teen drama makes this book perfect for any reading woman who enjoys a bit of angst and romance.