Book Review

The Cousins

The Cousins

  • Author: Karen M. McManus
  • Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller
  • Publication Date: December 1, 2020
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press

CONTENT WARNING: microaggression against a biracial character, alcoholism, infidelity, profanity, dementia, death, grief, miscarriage

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each other, 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 unwavering on one point: not going is not an option. This could be their chance 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. If they can survive the season.

Even though I’ve only read one of Karen M. McManus’s mystery/thrillers, I was very impressed by her style, and this book solidified her status as one of my favorites in the genre.

In The Cousins, she crafts a story with realistic and flawed characters, and then places them into a compelling setting full of dark, long-hidden family secrets and simmering resentment. The younger generation of the Story family is characterized by difficult relationships with their parents and a lack of relationships with other family members. So when the opportunity arises to visit their grandmother, they hope to make connections and learn more about their family history. But of course, things don’t quite work out as planned.

“The longer Mildred goes without contacting us, the more convinced I am that there’s something off about this entire summer.”

There’s a gothic feel to the island, and I really liked each of the cousins, who were so different in their own ways. Jonah was a jerk at first, but driven and focused with a good heart. Aubrey was sweet and seemingly well-adjusted, but a bit of a doormat. Milly was outspoken but closed off while simultaneously seeking approval from her mother.

“Because surely, one of them has to know what happened twenty-four years ago to make Mildred Story sever ties with all four of her children and never look back. And maybe if I know that, I’ll finally be able to understand my mother.”

I loved seeing the cousins really grow over the course of the book, and realize that just because family secrets have persisted, doesn’t mean that they have to keep things going the way they always have. Despite growing up the way they have, they learn a lot about their family, themselves, and each other.

“There’s something dangerously seductive about Story secrets; they snake their way into your heart and soul, burrowing so deep that the very idea of exposing them feels like losing a part of yourself.”

While a few of the plot twists were predictable, the majority were a total surprise. I quickly got sucked into the story, and read it in a day. I loved the story as much as One of Us is Lying (see review here), but I think the characters were even more well-crafted in this book. This was one of those hyped books that was on the nose. My only issue was that sometimes the voice sounded the same from character to character, and I’d have to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to see which POV I was reading.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 11

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