31 October 2013

Review: The Naturals

The Naturals
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I do find myself becoming somewhat tired of the "school age kid is X, and is enrolled in special school Y" trope that comes across so often, I was still drawn in by the concept behind "The Naturals." I was hoping that its spy/intelligence aspects would deliver in a way the "Gallagher Girls" series has for me. While there is a lot to like, both in terms of pacing and in story, the book ultimately suffers from being more formulaic than groundbreaking, and more procedural than promising.

The story is about a girl, Cassie, who is somehow pretty solid at reading people. Her mother was murdered years earlier, and the case remained unsolved, but the FBI has taken notice of her standing and recruits her to join a program where teens try to break the code on a series of cold cases. The kids in this program are also unnaturally good at certain aspects of psychological activity (like being able to read/influence emotions), and things get a little more serious a lot quicker than anyone thought.

Cassie is a great character, and the concept behind this entire idea is worthwhile. Where the book stumbles a bit, however, is where it stops feeling special. There are some fantastical/science fictional elements to the plot, for sure, but those are very quickly tampered down in favor of a more NCIS/Law and Order style procedural drama/thriller atmosphere that doesn't quite work with the tone or setup. If the book chose one route or the other, it may have been a lot more successful, but where the story instead tries to be all things to all people in a sense, it just left too much to the side in favor of playing the standard crime drama card.

Flaws and all, it was a good read, just not great. I do look forward to the next volume regardless, in hopes that things might get streamlined a bit, but this ultimately missed the mark somewhat for me.

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