Review: 'The Cousins' is a whodunit novel filled with twists and turns

Karen McManus perfectly pinpoints how family is sometimes more horrifying than a monster in her latest mystery book 'The Cousins'

I don’t think anyone can be too old for a young adult book, let alone a good mystery. So combining those two is often a recipe for success. The latest mystery novel by Karen M. McManus, “The Cousins," is no exception to this idea.

“The Cousins” comes as a standalone in McManus’ plethora of published mystery works, including the popular book “One of Us is Lying” and its sequel “One of Us is Next." But, "The Cousins" is definitely on a completely different plane in terms of its darkness in comparison to the aforementioned pair of Breakfast Club-esque stories. Despite the trio's synonymous themes of lies and betrayal, "The Cousins" takes the cake. 

In this book, Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story are from the same family, but they don’t interact with one another much because of family drama and their parents estrangement from their elusive grandmother Mildred. But when the trio is invited to stay with Mildred at her island resort for the summer, their parents are all able to agree that not going is not an option.

None of the teenagers thinks this is a good idea, but their parents believe this is an opportunity to get a chunk of their inheritance money back. Little do these cousins know, money isn’t the only thing their grandmother is hiding, and their family secrets are much darker than anything they thought was possible.

As someone who absolutely loved “One of Us is Lying,” McManus hit the nail on the head with the mystery in "The Cousins" by highlighting how sometimes the most terrifying thing in the world is your own family.

The way McManus wove this story together is particularly interesting, because we’re not just following the Story children’s summer, but also the lives of their parents when Allison, Milly’s mother, recounts the summer when she and her siblings were disinherited.

Each character develops uniquely from one another, being able to speak on the revelations occurring throughout the plot from a fresh perspective that one could not get from a singular point of view. The slow buildup of each character and their past, coupled with the sharp, clean plot points that McManus seems to hit in every chapter made for a deep connection between the character and the reader, which is always appreciated.

The twists in the novel surrounding the Story family secrets are much deeper in comparison to those uncovered in other literature penned by McManus. There were continuous bombs being dropped as Milly, Aubrey and Jonah learn everything, from why they’re present at their grandmother’s home to why their parents’ relationships with her are so strained. The minute I thought I was over one twist, another one popped up for me to process.

It was almost too much. I’m not typically a mystery fan, but I’m a big fan of McManus, so I thought I would give “The Cousins” a chance. As much as I enjoyed the constant cliffhangers, surprises and the persistence of the Story cousins, I wanted moments that allowed me to come up for air and process everything going on. 

The moment the trio finds out which original Story sibling caused their parents to get disowned is not what – or, who – readers expect, and while it was a much-needed twist to tie the story together, I would've liked a break in all of the whodunit guessing I was doing.

While the children were interesting, the whole unearthing process made the parents even more so. They clearly grew up wealthy, and their desperation for a relationship with their mother, as well as their drive to keep their secret under wraps from their children is gripping and keeps readers on the edge of their seat. I suppose this fast pace makes up for the slow beginning, which is not typical in McManus' previous work, where readers are thrown into the action head first, but it can still be seen as a little jarring.

The mystery was enough to keep me turning the pages and wanting more, but the pacing was a little uneven.

It's safe to assume the Story cousins won't be needing a sequel to their dark adventure, as this one crushes every unanswered question with the weight of 100 bricks. If you're in the mood to be blown away with an enticing yet ever-changing mystery, I highly suggest picking this book up.


Reach the reporter at skenoun@asu.edu and follow @sabrinakenoun on Twitter. 

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