Title: The Cousins
Author: Karen M. McManus
Genre(s): Young Adult Fiction, Suspense, Mystery
Gisselle's Rating: 3.5/5
DISCLAIMER: This review may contain spoilers for The Cousins.
In Karen M. McManus's most recent young adult suspense-thriller, three cousins - Aubrey, Millie, and Jonah Story - are mysteriously invited to the Story family's famed island resort by their grandmother, Mildred Story. After their parents had all been disinherited by Mildred years ago, this invitation brings much confusion, but also opportunity for the Story children; Mildred's invitation could allow for the cousins to ease their way back into her good graces... and find out exactly why their parents had been cut off in the first place. But nothing is what it seems; the Story family has many secrets, the cousins each have their own agendas, and all of them will be unveiled in the sunny resort of Gull Cove Island.
I began reading McManus's novels only a few weeks ago, beginning with One of Us Is Lying (review coming soon) and moving quickly onto The Cousins. Getting through novels as quickly as I did with The Cousins was a relatively good sign for me. I was enraptured enough in the story to keep my focus trained on it. I would read my physical copy when I was still and listen to the audiobook while at work and driving, caged in my desire to keep reading. I flew through the pages of The Cousins, and I did find myself enjoying the story - hah! - and the thrill of unraveling complex secrets and finding answers to the question that was the Story family.
I did manage to reach my own accurate conclusion of the partial reason the Story siblings had been disinherited, and although predictable through various tells and hints in the text, it did still shock me to the extent of the damage that this disinheritance caused. The biggest twist of the novel had me physically lurching forward into a sitting position from where I was laid back on my pillow, startling one of my pups with incredulous "What?"
Any book that can inspire such a physical reaction from me is usually pretty good, in my book (lol, puns).
Yet, as much as I enjoyed it, there are a few elements of the plot that I critiqued just as much.
As long as the relationship exists between two consenting individuals, I am usually not picky when it comes to romance in books. Be it slow-build or heated collision, enemies-to-lovers or childhood friends-turned-love, or a romance built off unique circumstance and proximity, I tend to enjoy the presence of it in various forms when reading a novel. Unfortunately, the romance in The Cousins just was not it for me.
It is eventually revealed that Jonah Story is actually Jonah North, an imposter sent by the real Story cousin to represent him in his stead. When Jonah and Millie began to exhibit feelings for one another, there are no familial ties between them, so they could safely start a relationship knowing that they were not really related. However, the knowledge that Millie, at least, had initially believed that she and Jonah were related and had still developed feelings for him in such a short time following his revelation made me feel troubled. Moreover, Jonah and Millie's coupling happened way too abruptly and defied the original impression they left on one another; they were irate with one another, and clashed in a variety of manners from the moment they met, and they just didn’t seem to click at all outside of physical attraction. After Jonah's secret was uncovered, they became attracted to one another with little buildup, leaving me perplexed by the disappearance of their mutual animosity and uneasy by how little regard they had for keeping up appearances as 'cousins' later in the text. Jonah and Millie's relationship appeared to be included primarily for the sake of adding drama rather than a desire to illustrate their love story, and I believe that The Cousins’ overall performance was could have performed better with its exclusion.
While the book mostly focuses on the Story cousins, McManus also interjects some flashback scenes with the perspective of Allison Story, Millie's mother. These scenes are set in the late 1990s, right before the Story siblings were disinherited. These scenes make us aware of the events that occurred in the Story family shortly before the mystery of the disinheritance, and we also get information about the elusive Story siblings that is absent in the sections with the cousins. It was enjoyable to be able to reflect on the history of the Story family and gain some perspective that puts us one step ahead of the cousins’ narratives, in a way. What confused me a little was McManus’s solitary attention on Allison. By the novel’s end, I understood that Adam and Anders were meant to be the antagonists among the Story siblings, and Archer's omission serves to prevent us in quickly figuring out what they all did to get disinherited. Yet, Allison's scenes make it seem like she and her daughter Millie (by extension) are the primary main characters of the novel where there isn't meant to be any. In a novel with an omniscient narrative, it felt like McManus was unknowingly focusing on these two characters, despite the fact that the other cousins shared equal narration.
I want to briefly shift my attention back to the positive side of The Cousins, and that is to highlight McManus’s writing. One part of the story that I disliked was the treatment of Archer; however, this is not a critique of McManus's writing, but rather a testament to how well she writes. McManus really caused me to mourn for the damaged, hurting, and most reclusive Story sibling. Archer being caught as collateral damage in his siblings' sins is horrifying, and it does highlight the fact that a quest for vengeance, people can be blind to hurting those that truly do not deserve it. Seeing how much this impacted him throughout the years, having been isolated from his siblings and struggling with alcoholism, is truly devastating. I also really loved the character of Aubrey, the last Story cousin. Aubrey experiences a lot of personal growth throughout the text, growing from a timid ‘daddy’s girl’ who was loathe to make him upset with her, to fiercely standing up for herself and calling people out. She develops into a very strong character that is willing to fight for herself, but at the same time she struggles to tamper down low self-esteem and the cowering need to please people. She was very likeable and reachable to me in that sense, and I related to her the most of all the cousins presented. McManus writes a really well-written, well-rounded character, but that doesn’t really come through for every character. By the novel's end, Archie and Aubrey were the only characters I was really rooting for, while the other characters fell onto the wayside, each unsuccessfully vying for my attention. This was a third-person omniscient novel and I think the problem that McManus runs into here is creating opportunities for her readers to connect with all her characters, as opposed to a select few.
The reason that the Story siblings were disinherited was pretty predictable; however, I didn’t realize just how deep the mystery ran, and that there was so much more hidden in the depths of the family’s secrets. The twist ending was a huge turn of events that I did not see coming, and it left me shocked and leafing back through the pages to see if I could have seen it coming.
The Cousins is a decent young adult mystery novel with many intriguing twists and turns, and I did enjoy reading through it and discovering the secrets of the Story family. The romance between two young adults with nothing really in common and lacking in any tangible chemistry kind of brought the performance of the book down for me, and I also didn't really find myself sympathizing with any characters outside of Archer and Aubrey. However, at the end, what the novel set out to do was create a jarring mystery and shock its audience, and McManus certainly delivered with the twist at the book's climax. It definitely was a huge bombshell, befitting of a family with as large a presence as the Storys.