Title: The Cousins
Author: Karen M MCManus
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5)
Description: Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they've never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they're surprised... and curious.
Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother's good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it's immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family's past is.
The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn't over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.
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POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD
Trigger Warnings: Murder, Violence
The Cousins is the latest book written by well-known ya mystery author, Karen M. McManus. She has quite a few books under her belt at this point and I've personally enjoyed her past work. I've always been fascinated by family dynamics in mystery books and this one, as you may be able to tell from the title, focuses on those convoluted relationships. It is the story of a group of cousins going to a private island to solve a long-carried family mystery.
The added bonus of a family tree laid out at the beginning sets the stage for this multi-generational mystery. Mixed media and formatting keep the reader alert. Whenever there's a shift in layout it brings the reader out of an engrossed daze. Time jumps sporadically dot the narrative to also further ensnare the reader. In combination, these qualities mean that you're always keenly aware of where you are in the story. It realigns the reader with what the author is trying to spotlight.
Karen M McManus knows how to keep a reader in suspense through switching narrators and surreptitiously dropping hints. The alternating point of views are reminiscent of other YA mysteries but they manage to hold their own. Usually, there's at least one pov in the mix that drags the rest down but I didn't find that in The Cousins. These povs are perfectly placed which lends itself to the above observations.
The author has a talent for nailing down often overlooked, mundane details that add to the realism of the book. Reveals of new information are made so simply that you can almost miss them. Nothing is outright stated and instead lies in fragments underlining the text. The Cousins has a knack for adding small traits to every character that only stick out after something about them is discovered. Karen M McManus has a way of embedding tiny, seemingly insignificant information in plain sight that morphs into a bombshell later on.
Jonah, Aubrey, and Milly are each fighting their own internal, and sometimes external, battle when they arrive on the island. They are incredibly well written young adults with a pinch of naivety and a dash of weather-worn wisdom. It isn't until they become closer that they're able to shoulder the burdens together. They are somehow polar opposites yet irrevocably connected. One could not carry the book without the others. It would be like severing a limb to the narrative.
I often find character interactions in mystery novels can be dry and downright monotonous but Karen M McManus manages to avoid this trap. It reads with dialogue that is as witty as that in any other genre. She manages the perfect balance of cliche and clever in equal measure. The characters live up to stereotypes but also define themselves. The relationship dynamics in the book are incredibly well thought out. None are carelessly thrown together out of convenience. And these relationships lend to the overall mystery itself.
Then, of course, the reveal of Jonah as not being their cousins opens the door for romance to blossom. There's a genuine quality to the romance that can be falling short in this genre particularly. It feels like a greatly considered element crafted in-depth as opposed to an afterthought. It is all surprisingly butterfly-inducing for a mystery novel. I can find these kinds of books are lacking with just a very brief glimpse into the relationship. However, in The Cousins, I found myself getting flustered in the same way I would reading a romance novel - though, admittedly, less frequently.
The mystery is far more ambiguous than what I'm accustomed to seeing in these types of books. It is almost entirely intangible for most of the story and merely lurks in the shadows until the end. This makes the story more interesting and perplexing to the reader. A lot of the time in a book like this one, emotion can be muted and given a backseat in favor of solid facts and logic that contribute to the puzzle. The Cousins didn't suffer from this.
It is an utterly addicting book. One minute you're starting the first page and the next thing you know you've devoured half of it in one sitting. There's never a dull moment. There's never boredom even in the supposedly "typical" scenes. There's always something that keeps the reader curious. Karen M McManus can turn even a docile scene into one filled with tension at the drop of a hat. The story is somehow the perfect compromise of realistic and outlandish - the two parts of any great mystery.
While the entirety of the book is excellent, the ending is particularly attention-consuming. I've read a few Karen M McManus books and I can say endings are where this author shines. She has a way of ending a story that ties up the current mystery enough to satisfy the reader's sweet tooth all while illustrating another layer of deception in the last line. It is probably my favorite part of her brand of writing.
From page one, you know The Cousins is a durable and well-written mystery book that will compete with any in the genre, including McManus' past works. She never spares on the classic mystery goosebumps combined with a modern take on a sometimes outdated genre. I can say that her books breathe new life into the genre that few others have in recent years. Not only is she great at writing ya mystery but also a mystery worthy to stand up to any of the traditional greats of the past.
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