Jennifer Lynn Barnes – The Naturals

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Summary: 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.

My rating: 2 out of 5

This book is Criminal Minds fanfiction, for the under-15 crowd. It takes a great deal of suspension of disbelief to read this book; and I’m not talking about the preposterousness of the idea that children—teenagers, can be FBI criminal investigators. The necessary suspension of disbelief from the reader’s part is required in order to swallow the fact that a bunch of utterly incompetent, petty teenagers are capable of looking beyond their egotistical, self-centered noses.

There’s this show I love called Criminal Minds. It features a team of FBI profilers at the Behavioral Analysis Unit. They take on difficult cases, involving mainly serial killers. The special agents make psychological profiles about the potential suspect, then using that information, narrow down the field of suspect until they get the right one. The show is entertainment, there is no argument on my part about that. Behavioral analysis is a bullshit art, at best. Criminal profilers have rarely been right, it’s more of a matter of throwing a rock into the darkness in the hopes of eventually hitting someone in the face. It rarely happens, but they get it right sometimes. More than anything, it is a show with likeable, complex characters, and a wonderful team who puts their personal problems and quirks aside to work together like a well-oiled machine in order to solve a case.

Well-oiled machine is not the word I would use to describe the characters in this book and their cohesiveness. The teenagers in this book work together as well as an AK-47 that’s been left to rust for 50 years in the mud of a long-forgotten battlefield; the parts do not function, and the damn gun might blow up and shoot you by accident in the face at any given moment.

Still, this book is based on that premise. It is a team of teen profilers who use the word “UNSUB” to describe an unknown subject. The word UNSUB is strictly a TV-based term, and it was Criminal Minds that popularized the use of the word. To me, this is nothing more than adolescent Criminal Minds fanfiction, without the likeable, complex characters.

Summary: 17-year old Cassandra (Cassie) lives with her large extended Italian family, working part-time as a waitress. Her mother has been murdered 5 years ago, and her father is out of the picture (see what I mean about parents in YA fiction? Dead or gone 90% of the time). Cassie has always had a skill for reading people, for predicting what they want. Right now, her skills are being used for nothing more than to predict what her customers are going to order next from the menu. A boy, a sexy boy appears from nowhere, well-dressed, too handsome for his own good, and asks her to predict how he prefers his eggs:

“What kind of eggs?” I asked.
“You tell me.” The boy’s words caught me off guard.
I stared at him through the wisps of hair still covering my face. “You want me to guess how you want your eggs cooked?”
He smiled. “Why not?”
And just like that, the gauntlet was thrown.
“Not scrambled,” I said, thinking out loud. Scrambled eggs were too average, too common, and this was a guy who liked to be a little bit different. Not too different, though, which ruled out poached—at least in a place like this. Sunny-side up would have been too messy for him; over hard wouldn’t be messy enough.
“Over easy.” I was as sure of the conclusion as I was of the color of his eyes. He smiled and closed his menu.

Over easy eggs! Clearly, Cassie is a genius worthy of the FBI. Just like that, she is drafted to join a special unit in the FBI. The Naturals. She lives and trains with four other teenagers, each with their own special skills. They may be kids, but they’re soooooooooo much better than the real FBI agents.

No matter how long they did this job, or how much training they had, these agents would never have instincts as finely honed as ours.

Teen Titans Power, YEAH!

The kids, and they are kids—try to solve old cases for practice, they do training on random everyday subjects at malls, food courts. The teenagers in the prorgam play games, they flirt, they kiss. And there might be a serial killer out there who wants to collect Cassie as his prize.

Let’s get this straight, this is Criminal Minds fanfiction, but it does not have an iota of the enjoyability.

Criminal Minds has amazing, complex characters
The teens in the Naturals are teenagers. For better or worse. They have special abilities, there is no doubt of that, but I have serious doubts as to their judgment and their competence to actually fulfil their purpose when 90% of the times, they act like—well, really immature teenagers. The characters are teenagers who act positively juvenile; they have special abilities, but that is the limit to my interest towards them. There is nothing about the characters that make them stand out, that make me sympathize with them, that make me like them, despite the author’s attempt at giving them sad backstories. They are merely teenagers who get on my nerves.

We have Dean, who is the James-Dean-esque weightlifting, bulky teenaged deliquent who looks ready to punch someone in the face at any second. Dean is a profiler, like Cassie. We have Lia, the sexy Asian girl, who wants to slither onto Michael’s lap at any given second. Her specialty is lying, at detecting liars. We have Michael, the wealthy, (multiple) Porsche-owning trust funded, blue-blooded, smug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug son-of-a-bitch whose sole purpose in life is to make Dean lose control and to make Cassie want to rip his head off (when she’s not kissing him, that is). We have Sloane, the duller than dull factoid spouter who is boring, and who’s pretty much useless. I mean, anyone can spout off random-ass facts. I would be a much better Sloane. I mean, I have personality.

Cassie herself is boring, without personality. Cassie reminds me of geniuses who are so brilliant in one category that they are completely lacking in everything else in life. Life skills. Personality. Cassie is a good profiler, not great, I have a lot of skepticism where her skills are concerned, and I have to accept the fact that her natural talents are that—natural, inside her, because there is no explanating her talents otherwise. Frankly, Cassie never exhibits many signs of intelligence besides for her Natural Profiling skill.

The rest of the characters are largely unlikeable in one way or another, they are either surly, or selfish, or bitchy, or snarky, or else they blend into the shadow so much I hardly remember they’re there. I think that’s why Sloane spouts off so many random facts. If she didn’t speak up once in awhile to say something completely random like “Less than point-five percent of the words in the English language contain all five vowels,” I would completely forget that she has ever been there.

Criminal Minds does not concern itself about their team playing petty mind games with each other, nor do they play Truth-Or-Dare
There is so much antipathy between the characters. Dean and Michael are ready to strangle each other at any given second, and while Dean keeps quiet and stay true to his bad-boy-loner trope, Michaels is the Naturals version of The Simpson‘s Nelson Muntz, pointing his finger in Dean’s face, going HAW-HAW!!!!!!

“Have you ever seen The Bad Seed?” he inquired politely. “The movie.”
A muscle in Dean’s jaw twitched. “No.”
Michael grinned. “I have.”
Dean stood up. “I’m done here.”

**note: Dean’s father is a serial killer, hence the Bad Seed joke. The Bad Seed is a movie where the child turns out to be an evil, murdering monstrosity.**

Criminal Minds does not concern itself with a fucking love triangle
There’s Cassie! Who will she fall for?! Is it bad-boy loner Dean? The surly boy who never, ever, EVEEEEEEEEER lets anyone close to his heart—until Cassie comes along! Or will Cassie fall for Michael! Michael with his movie-star good looks and multiple Porsches who hides his nonchalance behind a snarky exterior, never letting anyone see the warm, melty, oozing, cheesy (sorry, I haven’t eaten dinner yet), fluffy interior. Over easy, indeed!

Or will it be Lia! Lia with her constant flirtation with Michael! Or does Lia love Dean instead?! Noooooooooo!

Fucking gag me, please.

Criminal Minds never has a fucking touching romantic moment right after leaving a crime scene with dead bloodied bodies and a killer on the loose

When Agent Starmans glanced in the room, all he saw was [him] and me.
Kissing.
The kiss in the pool was nothing compared to this. Then, our lips had barely brushed. Now, my lips were opening. Our mouths were crushed together. His hand traveled from my neck down to my lower back. My lips tingled, and I leaned into the kiss, shifting my body until I could feel the heat from his in my arms, my chest, my stomach.

Self-explanatory.

Criminal Minds has Reid. Sloane is no Reid
Really, Sloane is the most useless character in the world. She does absolutely nothing besides spouting off random facts:

Sloane on coffee was a bit like an auctioneer on speed. The numbers poured out of her mouth rapid-fire, a statistic for every occasion. For eight hours.
“Sixteen percent of American men have blue eyes,” she informed me blithely. “But over forty percent of male TV doctors do.”

Oh, and she’s a really good hugger. Because every FBI investigative team needs a hugger. For hugs.

Sloane slipped an arm around my waist. “There are fourteen varieties of hugs,” she said. “This is one of them.”

i>Criminal Minds does not try to slut-shame a girl
Lia. Poor Lia. She is sleek, she is Asian, she is sexy, she is tall. She also has a special ability to lie. She wears barely-there clothes. She makes numerous sexual innuendoes.

Agent Locke added, meeting Lia’s eyes, “she’s a very good liar.”
Lia didn’t seem to take offense at the agent’s words. “I’m also bilingual,” she said. “And very, very flexible.”
The second very was aimed directly at Michael.

Naturally, she’s to be shamed for the way she dresses. Naturally she hits on the guys. Naturally, she eats ice cream for breakfast (in a sexual manner) and wears silk pajamas that leaves nothing to the imagination. Can we not do this, please? Can we just have normal characters who just happen to like dressing that way without writing it in a way so that the reader hates them?

If you want to read books about serial killers, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga is a good book. Alternately, you can just go watch Criminal Minds itself. Either way, I can guarantee you will get more enjoyment from either than you will ever get out of this book.

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