Monday, September 17, 2018

My Love Letter to the Naturals Series

I spent a wonderful few days falling head-over-heels in love with the Naturals series by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, so today I'm going to be discussing it! But really, it's just me saying how much I love it. 😁 PLEASE STOP SLEEPING ON JLB BOOKS AND READ THIS SERIES AND THE FIXER ONE, OKAY?!

Spoilers, so beware!

I’m actually quite devastated. Because I’m done with the series. I binge-read at least one per month, but it’s *very* rare when I become this invested. When I literally push everything else aside just to fucking READ. I pretty much read all four books + the novella in a few days, even though I had to wait to pick up Bad Blood until the next weekend (which was fucking torture oh my god). So because of how it went, I decided to talk about the series as a whole, and this is gonna be long. Fair warning, I have A LOT to say! :D

First of all, I’ve got a Bachelor’s in psychology, so when I read the synopsis, I was interested because of that, and I grabbed book one when it went on sale. And holy shit did I ever love the approach to psychology, and the ways that human beings are just fucking complicated. That relationships are. We are, honestly, masters at putting on masks and tearing into each other. Anyone who thinks that someone is simple, easy to know and predict, is either a liar or in denial. Humans are multifaceted, sharpened by circumstances and shaped by the people in their lives. No one’s story is the same, and no personality is either. This is why I was always drawn to the field of psychology, to wanting to understand the whys and the ways in which people become who they are. So I had such FUN with this kind of storyline about a group of Naturals who can crawl into the depths of people and figure them out based on tells that are hard to learn to read even if you’ve spent a good deal of your life trying.

In a house full of people who saw things the rest of the world missed, it was impossible to hide.

The biggest love that I have for this series is the friendship, the team, that forms this off-the-book FBI group. Four of them had known each other beforehand, so the addition of Cassie is both fraught with a little drama (which is why book two wasn’t hitting the 5-star mark for me, to be honest), and wonderful because she just fit in so well with them. I was always more drawn to the Dean-types, and I knew she would end up with him, so the love triangle with just a phase for me to get past. Like I felt that her and Dean had such a soul-deep connection. Not just because of their pasts, but because of who they are at their most stripped down and vulnerable. They settled each other, accepted the flaws and loved deeply, and proved that you are not your parent. But it’s not about the love triangle. It’s about the five of them; their strengths and weaknesses, their pasts and futures, and the shit they’ve gone through that makes them the perfect teen agents.

Cassie, profiler extraordinaire who just wants to find her mom, whether dead or alive. The trauma of losing her so young, of being the daughter of a cold case, has given Cassie edges that she’s not sure how to soften. Not the kind of edges that turns a person mean, but the kind that make her put up walls between everyone else in her life she cares about, and keeping most of herself tucked away. And I use knowing things about people as an excuse to keep them from knowing me. She joined this group in the hopes that she’d find answers, but what she gets is so much more than she’d ever expected. She found friendship, love, family. The family that you make because you either don’t have one of your own or you can’t be yourself with the one you have. But it took Cassie a while to get to that point, because she couldn’t see beyond her mother’s probable murder. She’s tested beyond her limits, but what she had to remember was that she’s not a monster. That she’s a human being who just had to do what she needed to do to survive.

“Maybe to do what you and I do, we have to have a little bit of the monster in us.”

Dean, son of a serial killer who tried to turn him into a daddy’s boy. His father would make him watch when he was older, after Dean realized the ugliness that hides behind the charisma of Daniel Redding, and he was forced to do something that made him feel less-than-human just to survive it. So he thinks he’s going to turn into his dad, that the sociopath lives inside of him, just begging to get out. And I HATED it. My poor baby. He turned everything inward, suppressed every single bad emotion for fear it would turn him into Daniel. I fucking loathe what that man did to his child, and I do wish there’d been a *bit* more character development with Dean because I feel like he didn’t get to a good place of acceptance of himself. But he did find a place for himself with Cassie, and with the rest of them. He was loved. And he could never be his father because he has so much empathy and compassion for people. All he wants is to do good with his gift.

Michael, the charming and self-destructive emotion reader who doesn’t know how to deal with his own. I'm a person who wants what he can't have as a method of proving to himself that he doesn't deserve the things he wants. He’s got so many loaded, repressed feelings, and that was part of the reason that I didn’t ship him and Cassie. He’s so damaged and, while sometimes super bitter and petty, his smile can mask the worst of emotions. He kept people at a distance in a different way than Cassie (and Dean and Lia), and he just so badly could not believe that he deserved good things. Like he became so good at reading emotions because he had to look out for his father’s anger. He needed to know when the switch flipped, and that was the only way because Thatcher Townsend had covered up all the ugliness inside of him so well. I hate him as much as I hate Daniel Redding. I’m SO glad Michael got out of that abusive relationship by the end, but holy fuck. It was just hard watching him continuously fall down the rabbit hole of I hate myself. He needed a fucking hug, goddamn it.

Lia, the one-woman show and human lie detector who didn’t give one fuck if she hurt you. It kept you from hurting her. I didn’t always like her, because she used her past as an excuse to be an asshole, but I could understand why she was the way she was. She grew up in a cult that tried to strip away every part of her, so she had to adapt and hide her truest self. It’s why she’s so good at detecting lies. But she was also brilliant at TELLING them that people could never decide if it was a lie or not. I don’t moisturize. I made a deal with the devil to maintain my youth. You don’t want to know what the devil asked for in return. She was more real with Michael, though. But because of how the two of them are, I couldn’t really get behind them as a couple. I think they would never get legitimately genuine with each other, and the basis of their relationship was a mutual fondness for self-destruction. I didn’t need them to reconnect in the series, but I also didn’t mind it.

And Sloane, oh my god, the most precious character I’ve ever read about and I will stab someone if they ever say a bad word about her. Her comfort is numbers. She’s a mathematical genius, but not a social one. She says the wrong things at the wrong time; she doesn’t always see the subtle details that the others catch. But she’s so unbelievably caring and passionate, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. I hate her father for even making her think that, for making her believe that she had no value and that she wasn’t wanted. But oh, was she valuable. She was the rock that kept everyone together. She brought levity in times when laughter was needed. She was just Sloane. Brilliant, adorable, socially awkward Sloane who wouldn't let the family fall apart. I hadn’t been sure what to think of Celine’s entrance, but I was so pleasantly surprised, and I LOVED that in the novella, Twelve, the two of them are together. Sloane deserved the world, and anyone who thought otherwise was The Worst.

omg now that I’m thinking about it, Sloane was the only one who didn’t hide from the group. She was always herself, but the rest of them had tight lids on their emotions. But the way that all of them were so different just made it all FIT. The small drama, the anger and happiness, the love and hate. It was all so intertwined, because like that quote said above, they couldn’t get away with it. Calling each other out became their favorite pastime, because then they wouldn’t feel so alone with their demons. Like Lia had said in the Vegas book, it wasn’t Cassie’s turn. Everyone got a turn to be torn up over their pain, their hurts. It wasn’t just the Cassie show, even though she was the only narrator. These secondary characters were just as important, mattered just as much, and they all had a time to fight back.

Some people said that broken bones grew back stronger. On the good days, I told myself that was true, that each time the world tried to break me, I became a little less breakable. On the bad days, I suspected that I would always be broken, that parts of me would never be quite right--and that those were the parts that made me good at the job. Those were the parts that made this house and the people in it home.

None of them were perfect, certainly. They were all trying to get away from ugly pasts and to find a purpose, a reason to make those awful feelings feel less awful. For different reasons, they were recruited for the FBI as a resource, and for different reasons, they stayed. They didn’t have it easy, and each of them was well-tested. But while they were stubborn, and prone to not listening to adults, they were never needlessly reckless. They were SMART, and they played it smart. You don’t often get that in YA, in my opinion, because authors tend to decide that teens will follow their emotions and not their heads. That in times of danger, they’ll just run face first into it without taking a breath to think. And while there were a few reckless moments, they were always because of one of the five being in danger, and who could blame them then? They tested the adults in their lives to the fucking limit, but I didn’t mind the bullheadedness because they were just teens trying to figure out their lives and were tired of being told they weren’t old enough to decide for themselves.

And omg I loved the adults too, though. Agents Briggs and Sterling, reluctant daddy and mommy to five teenagers who didn’t want to accept the word no. I’m so happy they reconnected. SPECIAL AGENT BABY. And Judd. Ex-marine, grieving father, housekeeper and caretaker. In the first book, he’s just a shadow at the edges of their lives. But in time, he becomes their surrogate Dad, and he will not fuck around. If you threaten one of his kids, you better fucking run. Like he had to give them some leash too. Throughout the course of the series, the cases get bigger and nastier, the overarching plot becoming a chase to find a secret cult that’s been operating for over a hundred years. He couldn’t save them from what was coming any better than Briggs and Sterling. They just had to trust their kids, back them, and then be there at the end with support and love. Not that any of them know how to really show it, but it’s okay, the Naturals can read them anyway.

One more thing that I will say about the series overall is that it’s a LOT of telling and not showing. However, I think it makes sense for what it is. Because the books are in Cassie’s POV, you only get what she sees and thinks and feels. But not only that, she’s a PROFILER. So she’s constantly reading people. Dean, Michael, Lia, and Sloane. Briggs and Sterling, Judd. The killers, the victims, the people they meet and talk to along their journey. Normally, it’s not a good thing in a story, but it works here. I was just so utterly fascinated with how all of this came together, even if I wasn’t that big of a fan of the ending. It felt a bit anticlimactic, I didn’t care for the addition of Laurel, and I was sad about Cassie’s mom. Bad Blood was my least favorite book in the series, but I still ADORED it. My favorite, though, is a tie between The Naturals and All In. I usually have such a soft spot for the first book, but the Vegas one really got me too. It was all just SO FUCKING GOOD. And so was the novella! EVEN THOUGH WE DON’T GET A JUDD CAMEO. I AM UPSET! But it’s so damned hard saying goodbye to these characters. I’ve basically lived with them for days in the past week, and I don’t know how to let go quite yet. *sobs* I’m going to miss them.
The Naturals: 5
Killer Instinct: 4.5
All In: 5
Bad Blood: 4
Twelve: 4

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