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.
Karen M. McManus does it again. I don’t know what it is about this woman, but I find her YA thrillers so fun and easy to read, and this is another one I gobbled up in two sittings.
Milly, Aubrey and Jonah are the grandchildren of Mildred Story who, two and half a decades before the beginning of the novel, suddenly cut ties with her four children with five simple words: You know what you did. Adam, Anders, Allison and Archer have always insisted they have no idea what their mother meant and have been forced to make their own way in the world. Then Milly, daughter of Allison, Aubrey, daughter of Adam, and Jonah, son of Anders, receive an invitation to spend the summer at their grandmother’s resort. Their parents hope they’ll finally have some answers, but the truth proves to be darker than they ever could have imagined.
I’ve read two of McManus’s previous novels, One of Us is Lying and One of Us is Next, and a lot of their fun comes from the heightened drama of its characters finding themselves in the midst of a thriller while in high school, as if being a teenager isn’t already difficult without someone being murdered. The Cousins, on the other hand, is much more about family secrets, and it has a classic mystery feel to it. Being invited to a summer resort by your estranged grandmother feels like the kind of plot you could just as easily come across in an Agatha Christie novel, but it works here because it removes these teenagers from their safety nets and forces them to rely on no one but each other, even though they barely know each other, when things start to go wrong.
In fact Milly, Aubrey and Jonah seem to be the most decent generation of this family around, even though they all have secrets of their own; their parents deny having done anything to be treated the way that they’ve been treated, which means that either their grandmother, who’s never bothered with them, is a liar, or they are, and if they haven’t been very good children it’s safe to say they haven’t really been the best of parents either. The Cousins weaves in several chapters from the point of view of Allison in her teenage years, giving us a glimpse of the teens’ parents in their younger years, and they’re all pretty awful and entitled – particularly Adam and Anders.
To be honest Adam and Anders both felt a little too much like caricatures to me, especially Anders, which was a shame. I love stories that follow complex families and the messy relationships they have with each other, but Adam and Anders were such unpleasant characters that they were actually pretty boring. I did love Archer, though, who is a sweet bean.
It’s Milly, Aubrey and Jonah who are at the heart of this novel, though, and I really enjoyed their dynamic. Their parents’ haven’t only been disowned by their mother, they’ve also lost touch with one another, meaning this is the first time the three cousins have met, and I loved how quickly they fell into the habit of having each other’s backs in the weird situation they’ve found themselves in.
If you love fast-paced thrillers brimming with twists and turns, The Cousins is a lot of fun and well worth your time!