The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

  The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, Delacorte Press, 9780525708001, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Mystery

What did you like about the book?  Twenty years ago, wealthy Mildred Story disinherited all four of her offspring: Adam, Anders, Allison, and Archer. They received only a note, reading “You know what you did.” Fast-forward to the present, where the children of the eldest three, Milly, Audrey and Jonah, all receive a mysterious summons to Gull Cove Island; they’ve been invited to take cushy summer jobs at a posh resort owned by their grandmother. But once they arrive, their grandmother seems to have no foreknowledge of the plan. What’s going on? What long-buried mysteries will the three uncover? And what secrets of their own are they keeping under wraps? In alternating first person narratives, each of the three teens reveals their backstory and how it shapes their response to the present situation. We also get to know Milly’s mother, Allison, through a series of third person narratives giving tantalizing glimpses of the summer of 1996 (THE summer, when something bad and mysterious happened, precipitating the break-up of the family).  Gull Cove Island reads like a more ritzy version of Nantucket, and the book has a strong Gossip Girl vibe, with its voyeuristic look into the lives of the rich and privileged. I didn’t figure out the mystery, although I certainly was able to identify who was a bad actor well before the reveal. Milly has a Japanese-American father and identifies as BIPOC; all other main characters are White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? Although members of the McManus fan club may not be bothered by the implausibility of several plot points, I found them hard to swallow. Spoiler alert, one of the teen protagonists is a plant, and no thought seems to have been given to how that would work itself out. Also, I found the “mystery” part totally implausible. The alternating first-person narrative should have given McManus a chance to develop her characters’ individual voices. Instead, I turned backwards constantly to see who was supposed to be talking as I found the voices of Audrey, Milly, and Jonah virtually indistinguishable. The arresting cover, with the teens’ photos crossed out with bold red paint and a scary-looking font for the title proved to be a red herring; the teens don’t face much danger, there’s little suspense, and no horror elements.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Readers of McManus’s other teen hits (One of Us Is Lying, One of Us is Next) will probably be happy with this book. The plot does feature under-aged drinking and barely viewed sexual congress, so I’d say grades 8 and up.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: April 20, 2021

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