My crazy friends and I decided to start a book club for 2014, and The Naturals was our first read. We had a lot of fun reading it, even though there were some stumbling blocks when Lauren and Dee thought a weekly goal was a good idea, and just as much fun discussing it, even though it took bloody ages to get everyone together in one spot. Here is a spoiler-free discussion post for you to enjoy! Let us know what you think in the comments below.
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.
Lauren: I loved Cassie’s voice, and I found that even when she was waxing poetic about either Michael or Dean, she still came across as pragmatic and succinct; she was honest with herself, even if it was only in her own head, which I really appreciated. I loved how she didn’t back away from a fight but also wasn’t afraid to own up to her fear. I also loved how curious she was, because it made me feel curious too, wanting to know about the other characters and what had brought them together.
Tatum: I wasn’t crazy about Cassie but I do think she was, for the most part, an interesting protagonist. I liked her history; it immediately made me feel more engaged with the story. Like Lauren and Amber, I thought her curiosity was great both as a character trait and a necessary plot device. Unfortunately she eventually succumbed to the generic fallback of Insecure Teenage Girl Protagonist, comparing herself with other female characters and wondering why boys liked her, and I lost interest in her altogether when the love triangle took over her narrative.
Amber: As a protagonist, I loved her. I agree with Lauren, her curiosity was magnetic, and it appealed to my own highly curious personality. Seriously, neither of us would ever back away from an investigation, even if the FBI themselves told us to. Some parts of her personality were slightly quirky, although never overly so, which is great because that type of character annoys the crap out of me.
Lauren: Other than Cassie, I would say that Sloane and Lia were the most interesting characters, and I really wished we’d had the chance to get to know them in more detail, especially Lia. She’s a total bitch, which I loved, but we never got to understand why, so I really hope we get to hear more about them both in future books. I also loved Dean, because I find his backstory absolutely fascinating. And none for Michael bye.
Amber: I don’t think the secondary characters were developed as much as they could have been, and once again this comes down to the fact that this book could have been two hundred pages longer. I wasn’t a fan of Lia, although I totally get why Lauren was. She just didn’t appeal to me. I did love Sloane, who was basically Criminal Minds‘s Reid on crack, and would have loved to have seen more of her backstory, along with that agent guy whose name escapes me. *thinks* *has a look through the book* Briggs. Yeah, him.
Tatum: I liked Briggs too! In fact I really liked most of the characters except Michael, because fuck Michael t b h. Dean was intriguing because of his background but I also really liked how closed off he was and his whole internal conflict thing was sexy, so sexy compelling. Lia and Sloane were also pretty great; I liked how different they were and it would have been nice to have had more scenes with them instead of the love triangle.
Lauren: The idea of a group house filled with a bunch of teenagers learning how to profile crime scenes was a very interesting one, and it didn’t disappoint me. While I wish that we could have seen more of the actual lessons and seen more of the group dynamics, after the ending it actually made more sense that we didn’t. It was fast paced but never more than it needed to be, and I thought that Barnes did a fantastic job of balancing Cassie’s new life with the case unfolding around her. Even though I didn’t manage to spot the plot twist, I never felt that it was trying to do too much or was more convoluted than it needed to be, which is a trap a few crime writers have fallen into.
Tatum: I don’t really get it? I mean, I enjoyed it but in the back of my mind I kept asking myself ‘okay but what exactly is a Natural? Are they X-Men? Are they just really intelligent/talented?’ The book never really answers this question either but you’re expected to accept that this group of teenagers are better than fully trained FBI agents and NOPE. Not buying it, I’m afraid. I did love all the training scenes and would have liked to have witnessed the other two characters, because fuck Michael, learning as well. I didn’t see the reveal coming but I loved it because what a good everything.
Amber: I definitely think that more of the lessons were necessary. While I loved the fast pace of the plot, I don’t think more lessons would have dragged it down, and I actually think they were rather essential. I wanted to learn more tips and tricks, and see Cassie learn them too. I didn’t see the plot twist coming until right before it happened, which is always good! Very few twists in fiction surprise me these days, so to feel that rush towards the end was fantastic.
Lauren: This was the only thing that let the book down for me, and although I think both Tatum and Amber have rated it as 4 stars, I would only give it 3, and it’s because it includes the 2 very worst tropes in literary history – Instalove and the dreaded Love Triangle. I mean seriously, Cassie moves away from her family and into a house full of people who are slightly weird and she’s suddenly having lessons about serial killers, and yet within a week of her being there, all she can think about is which of the two boys in the house she likes more. Nah man, I’m never going to be here for that shit.
Tatum: I liked the natural progression of Dean and Cassie’s relationship; I enjoyed their dynamic and the subtle tension in their interactions made me really want to see more of them together just to watch them bounce off each other. And I repeat: fuck Michael.
Amber: I’m pretty sure I’m the only one out of the four of us who loved the romance. Well, not loved, exactly, but very much enjoyed it. It’s not often that I like a love triangle in YA, and yet I didn’t feel any negative feelings towards this one. While I personally ship Cassie with Michael, I could totally get behind her and Dean if he has a bigger role in the sequel. But for now I’ll be waving my Michael flag, because I like sarcastic arseholes.
Lauren: I spoke about Cassie’s voice at the top, but as the book is told in first person, it’s also relevant here. To be honest, this is my favourite kind of prose; simple and clean, not too many metaphors or flowery symbology. Cassie says what she thinks, and she thinks in clear, crisp lines that not only make sense for her character, but also make reading the book an easy flow. Barnes doesn’t mess around with the exposition, but neither does it feel like an info dump, and she manages to bring attention to Cassie’s ability to read people without it ever encroaching on her own distinct personality. I found the language came across as a mix between entertaining YA fiction and easy-to-read pulp fiction language (only without all the terrible OTT punctuation, obviously). It made for a very entertaining and easy read, and yet the subject matter remained interesting and thought provoking.
Tatum: It was pretty bog-standard YA first-person tbh, which I tend to find irritating after a while. The prose is fairly simple and clean, which, like Lauren pointed out, works in favour of the narrative.
Lauren: This was the best bit for me, because despite both reading and watching myriad crime procedurals and always being able to guess who the killer is before they reveal it, with this one I did not see it coming. I knew it was someone connected with the house, that it was someone that Cassie knew, but that was as far as I got into puzzling the answer out. That was an amazing feeling, and the best part was thinking back and realising that there actually were all those little clues thrown in up until that point and I’d missed them. I also thought Cassie was amazing in the last couple of chapters; as though once the two boys were no longer the main thing she was thinking about, she grew into a spectacular character that I would love to see more of.
Tatum: I thought the climax to the murder mystery was fabulously done and it really helped that I didn’t see it coming at all. Unfortunately the last few pages of the book are devoted to the love triangle and as I care more about wallpaper than I do about irritating romantic subplots I found myself tuning out.
Amber: As that bloke from Pitch Perfect said: Endings are the best part. That statement is very much true for this novel, because the last fifty pages are where everything picks up and starts to spiral towards the conclusion. Like I said previously, I did not see the twist coming until Cassie went into the bathroom to make a call. That’s when it started to click. I love that we got to see the killer’s backstory and motivation, it really made me feel some sort of connection with them. The last couple of chapters were excellent, while I wasn’t a huge fan of the epilogue type chapter at the very end. I like how it wrapped things up in a “X Months Later” type way, it felt a lot like the end scene of Ocean’s Eleven: disconnected, and with too much emphasis on the romance.
Lauren: I’m looking forward to it, and I’m definitely going to be picking it up the moment it hits the shelves. I’m really hoping that the love triangle will be toned down a lot, and that we’ll get to learn a bit more about the other characters. I’m also hoping that the Serial Killer they have to find next time won’t be so intimately connected with Cassie, so that we’ll get more of the crime scene detailing and less of the ‘oh no they’re after me!’ monologues. I can only read so much of that before I feel an intense need to roll my eyes out of my head tbh.
Tatum: Umm, I liked this book but I’m still not sure I’ll be reading the sequel, at least not straight away. Maybe if the sequels are written from different characters perspectives because I think a book about Lia would be most excellent.
Amber: I’m very excited to see where the sequel takes the characters, although I’m also quite hesitant. The Naturals would have made a great standalone book. I hope that the author uses the sequel to tell us more about Cassie’s mother’s murder, because I think we all need some closure on that front. My fingers are crossed for another well-researched thriller.
Lauren: I loved the I/You aspect of Cassie and Dean’s working dynamic. I thought it cleverly reflected their individual backgrounds and brought them together in a really individual way, and I’m excited to see if that gets expanded on in the sequel.
Tatum: What Lauren said ^^
Amber: The amount of research that clearly went into it, because it felt like I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds. I loved all the little details that were included, and I hope to see more of those in the sequel.
Least Favourite Aspect
Michael. I know Amber loves him, and usually we tend to have similar tastes in male characters, but I just wasn’t feeling him. I am all for sarcastic assholes (I stan many of them), but Michael didn’t come across that way to me. Instead I found him to be a self-entitled dick – especially when it came to Cassie, I mean what, did he call dibs on her before she arrived or something and just forgot to inform her? – and antagonistic without any reason. I like my sarcastic assholes to have reasons for why
they’re sarcastic assholes, and I’m sorry but ‘because I want the girl’ is not a good enough reason to me. Maybe he can be a tragic victim in the sequel? I’ll pretend to be upset and everything, honest!
Tatum: What is a Michael why am I meant to care
Amber: The length. I feel like this book could have been longer, so as to include more training and lessons. I loved those parts, and I don’t think we got enough of them! And whatever, Lauren, Michael is awesomely dickish.
Describe The Naturals in one word
We hope you enjoyed our first book club discussion post! It was a lot of fun to do, especially as I (Amber) had the spectacular task of finding Moriarty gifs. If you’ve read The Naturals, you should definitely join in with the discussion in the comments! We would love to know what you thought of it. Do you have an OTP, or are you as conflicted as I am? Do you want to murder Michael as much as Lauren does? And, perhaps most importantly, did you see the twist coming?