Shortly after fraud psychic Lorelei Hobbes was declared dead—a body was never recovered, but her dressing room was pretty much DOUSED in blood, so the crime was treated as a murder, rather than an abduction—her 12-year-old daughter was packed up and shipped off to live with relatives. Five years later, Cassie Hobbes is a waitress, using her talent for reading people—honed by years of working as her mother’s apprentice and accomplice—to get better tips, and while she knows that her family loves her, she’s never really felt like she’s belonged.

So when she’s approached by the FBI and offered a position as a profiler with a group of other “Naturals”—teenage prodigies whose skills are suited to cracking cold cases—she doesn’t even have to stop and think about it: She says yes. After all, working for the FBI, even in a purely advisory capacity, will bring her far closer to solving the mystery of her mother’s disappearance than working in a diner ever will. 

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Naturals was a one-sitting book for me: I sat down, I started reading, and I didn’t look up again until it was all over. She doesn’t cover any new ground*, but Barnes combines a super premise—a young team of forensic X-Men spar, snipe, study and smooch—with smart, funny, easy-going narration, and unless a reader goes in looking for the next Code Name Verity, Octavian Nothing or Chime, I can’t imagine anyone walking away disappointed.

Read-alikes!

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Lisa McMann’s Wake books. Like Cassie, Janie Hannagan has a talent that has the folks in law enforcement salivating: She’s a dream catcher, capable of witnessing—and affecting—the dreams of others. It’s much grittier than The Naturals, and it’s a paranormal rather than a straight-up crime story, but the parallels are there. My preference: The Naturals, because I found the basic premise easier to swallow. (I found the idea of a small-town police department using a teenager to do undercover work just…ludicrous. The FBI bringing pressure to bear on an absent parent is far more believable.)

Barry Lyga’s I Hunt Killers. Like Dean, one of Cassie’s co-Naturals, 17-year-old Jazz Dent is the son of a serial killer. Also like Dean, Jazz has to deal with sideways glances, with constant guilt-by-association, and with the especially uncomfortable fear that he might follow in his father’s footsteps. My preference: I Hunt Killers, due to its originality of voice and character, its juxtaposition of heart-warming friendship story with horror-show family drama, and its just across-the-board excellence. Both books are entertaining and smart, but The Naturals just doesn’t have as much heart.

As I’ve pointed out before, YA crime thrillers are on the rise. Do you have a favorite that I should add to my TBR pile?

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*For those who keep track of these things—I know I can’t be the only one—Cassie is the eleventy-billionth YA heroine with red hair, she is ultimately at the center of EVERYTHING, and yes, all of the dudes are swooning all over her. It’s so much fun, though, that none of those tired elements feel annoying.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.