Karen McManus’ The Cousins is a twisty, exhilarating good time

The Cousins by Karen M. McManus. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
The Cousins by Karen M. McManus. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

No one does YA thrillers like Karen McManus and the author is in fine form with The Cousins, a twisty family drama involving dark and dangerous secrets.

Karen McManus is well-known for her YA mystery thrillers, which are full of fast-paced plots, shocking twists, and smart use of a multi-POV format. Her latest novel, The Cousins, takes everything that’s great about her previous work and turns it up to eleven.

The result? A book that readers everywhere will find hard to put down.

A propulsive story will keep you barrelling through the plot, which centers on Milly, Jonah, and Aubrey, summoned to the posh Gull Cove Island by the mysterious, mega-wealthy grandmother they’ve never met. You see, these three are the grandchildren of the Mildred Story, the widow of the same Abraham who built the island – and its eponymous resort – from nothing. And Mildred disowned their parents – Adam, Anders, Allison, and their uncle Archer – with no explanation save a cryptic note that read You know what you did, long before any of these teens were ever born.

Their parents are naturally excited about the prospect of mending fences – and getting added back into the family will. But when the trio arrives on the island, they quickly learn that there are many more Story family secrets than any of them were aware ever aware of.

Have cousins being summoned to make peace, or is there something more sinister at work?

This novel is written in McManus’ signature shifting POV style, which allows us to get to know Jonah, Milly, and Aubrey on their own terms, outside of the growing complications of their role as Story heirs. Each of the cousins has their own perspective on their familial situation, and each has problems in their own lives to deal with. (It turns out it’s not exactly easy being a child in the story family in any generation.)

Milly is trying to grasp the attention of a mother that’s pushed everyone away for most of her life. Jonah’s father is basically Bernie Madoff – and completely unapologetic about the money he stole from his clients. And Aubrey is struggling with family secrets of her own – and a father who has never seemed to like her very much.

The novel also shifts between timeframes, giving us occasional glimpses of Allison, Adam, Anders, and Archer as teens themselves and weaving their story alongside the one happening in the present day. Family secrets are exposed in both the past and present timelines and the pace of the story is positively relentless.

One of the best aspects of McManus’ novels is the fact that they’re so binge-able. That may be a strange word to use when discussing a book, but the thing about The Cousins is that its twists and surprising revelations come so quickly that it’s easy to find yourself speeding through as relentlessly as any Netflix drama. Particularly when each development slots so seamlessly into the one that came before. it. (Prepare for a lot of questioning how you could have missed some vital clue after the fact, is what I’m saying.)

Readers who have spent time at McManus’ Bayview High (where her One of Us is Lying series is set) will recognize this feeling, and how utterly satisfying and entertaining it can be. True, The Cousins is not deep literature – but it does precisely what it sets out to do. Provide readers with an escapist whodunit that is just pure fun to read, and will leave you more than a little bit sad to see its mystery solved and story end.

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The Cousins is available now wherever books are sold