I’m usually quite a skeptic when it comes to young adult thrillers because as a hardcore thriller and crime reader I often find them quite underwhelming and simply not dark, violent or gripping enough. I have way too often made the experience that YA thrillers or horror novels just can’t manage to shock or scare me the way I want it a murder mystery to do and also thrillers for a younger audience unfortunately tend to have another feature that often annoys the shit out of me: there’s usually some kind of redundant romance or teenage drama because apparently teenage readers need that to be able to relate to a book – at least that’s what authors and publishers seem to think and YA novels without romantic influences apparently seem to be a no-go.
Criminal Minds with teenage profilers? Hell yes!
Nonetheless I eventually gave Jennifer Lynn Barnes‘ YA thriller „The Naturals“ a try because I just couldn’t resist the concept of the book any longer since it seemed to be like a YA version of one of my favorite TV shows: „Criminal Minds“. I just find the idea of analyzing bad people and trying to find out and understand what turned them into criminals super interesting and fascinating and this topic simply doesn’t get boring for me. Now in Jennifer Lynn Barnes‘ book the FBI has a training program for teenagers with a special gift that might sooner or later help the bureau catch serial killers and other human scum. One of those kids is 17-year-old Cassie Hobbes who seems to be the natural-born profiler and automatically analyses the shit out of every person she meets by noticing tiny details in their behavior, appearance and body language that tell her secrets people maybe aren’t even aware of. Somehow the FBI got wind of Cassie’s abilities and invites her to join a program that advances these skills and so she ends up being a part of the „Naturals“ along with emotion reader Michael, deception specialist Lia, statistic genius Sloane and Dean who is a profiler just as Cassie herself.
How to identify a serial killer 101
While it might not be super believable that the FBI recruits a bunch of talented teenagers to help them catch serial killers it still makes for a really interesting idea for a YA thriller and I have to admit that Jennifer Lynn Barnes had me hooked from the first page. That’s especially remarkable because for the first half of the book Cassie and her Naturals team weren’t even working an actual case but were only given some old files instead of being part of an actual investigation and the most exciting part of their training was a field trip to the local mall to analyze some random people. This might not sound very thrilling but I appreciated that the author took quite some time to introduce the characters and to explain to her readers how criminal profiling works – and even though I’ve already read tons of books and watched lots of shows and movies about this topic I still found it interesting to read about it and to follow the characters trying to read other people and each other.
A thriller’s worst nightmare: the love triangle
Unfortunately Jennifer Lynn Barnes, too, follows the unwritten rules of YA novels and can’t avoid the mandatory romance – and to make it even worse she even brings up my biggest nightmare and all-time nemesis: the LOVE TRIANGLE. While this is usually an absolute no-go for me and often automatically makes me hate a book even the romance parts didn’t lessen the fun I had reading this novel. I didn’t like the teenage drama at all but even those parts included the profiling aspects and wondering if the dark mysterious guys (of course…) that were part of the love triangle could be psychopaths deep inside actually made it a bit less annoying for me.
A surprisingly gripping thriller plot
However my favorite part of „The Naturals“ was definitely the thriller plot which was surprisingly good for a YA thriller – and I don’t want to say that YA murder mysteries generally have bad plots but this one was actually dark and violent enough to please my needs. I have to admit there were quite some convenient coincidences when it came to the plot that made it seem not completely believable but otherwise it could absolutely exceed my expectations. It took Jennifer Lynn Barnes a while to get the action started (as I already mentioned above) but once it did there was quite a lot of suspense and some good plot twists that even resulted in an ending that managed to take me by surprise.
A promising start to Barnes‘ YA thriller series
So apart from the annoying teenage drama (which was still less annoying than I had expected though) I had a really great time reading „The Naturals“ and I’m definitely going to continue this series. I still find the idea of a young BAU (behavioral analysis unit) pretty exciting and this first book brought up some mysteries about the characters and their backgrounds that I really want to know the answers to. So as long as the romance doesn’t get worse and the plots remain as addictive as in this first book I will look forward to more exciting cases for Cassie and her Naturals team!