Review of The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The Storys are the envy of their neighbours: owners of the largest property on their East Coast island, they are rich, beautiful, and close. Until it all falls apart. The four children are suddenly dropped by their mother with a single sentence:
You know what you did.
They never hear from her again.
Years later, when 18-year-old cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story receive a mysterious invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort, they have no choice but to follow their curiosity and meet the woman who’s been such an enigma their entire lives.
This entire family is built on secrets, right? It’s the Story legacy.
This summer, the teenagers are determined to discover the truth at the heart of their family. But some secrets are better left alone.

YA Thriller is a genre that has really captured my reading imagination recently, and whilst this is my first Karen M. McManus book, I’ve heard great things about her others, so I was really excited be part of the blog tour for her new book The Cousins, which is hosted by The Write Reads. I am grateful to Penguin and Netgalley for the review copy.

It’s a slow burn start and a good amount of time is taken to reflect the point of view from each of the cousins and especially for Milly and Aubrey where we learn a little about their disinherited parents too. The focus in the early stages is looking at more of the family aspect and actually what the impact really is when children have such a loss to contend with, a life long grieving process that there can be no closure to. Yes, the cousins parents have their flaws but honestly, I think that whilst it makes them sometimes terrible parents, they fall just short of being the bad guys. The psychological impact is woven so well into the story, with some being cliche and others a more nuanced reaction to essentially abandonment. For the cousins themselves, they have had to live with the emotional fallout, and whilst they are reasonably well rounded, it’s clear that the sense of abandonment continues. It’s interesting to consider how differently things may have been had this overwhelming shadow of a grandmother, who in essence has it all, hadn’t loomed so intensely. The small trinkets they hold on to are really touching and show that despite it all they still need to have some connection with their grandmother.

Their lead up to getting to the island is fun and the boat trip, whilst short, really gets to point of their personalities quickly, Milly being by far my favourite! She is quick and cutting and very funny. They are all instantly likeable characters though which makes this such an easy read to pick back up again, their story is one that you want to know more about and the way they drip feed each other information about their lives is endearingly cautious, looking back at these opening stages so much makes sense and I feel silly for not seeing some of the clues sooner as there is more than one mystery ahead to be solved!

The island itself feels like a contrived step back in time, everything is very quaint, the shops have a boardwalk feel and the bars an 80’s vibe which I thought may have been more of a culture shock than it was. The resort itself in a weird way reminded me of the place in Dirty Dancing, I’m not sure why! There is a background feel of a “I know what you did last summer” and this is nicely rounded out by the time shift POV, but honestly I have to say the twist was one that I didn’t even have an inkling of! It was so cleverly done and the pieces that had been subtly laid throughout fell wonderfully into place in the closing stages. Whilst the early pages moved slowly, as the investigation begins it feels more solidly into mystery territory, and I place it no higher than that, The unfolding of the clues is steady with a snowball effect through to the conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book but I don’t think it quite satisfied the itch I was hoping it would. It’s solidly written with great fun characters who fill both the scooby gang members and meddlings kids villain nicely. It has a phenomenal twist and a great epilogue, and I think that had the thriller pace been more evident and the mystery investigation element been more prominent it would have been a 5* but I think for me it sits happily as a 4.



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