Review: The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

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 all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity 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.

Title: The Cousins
Author: Karen M. McManus
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller
Targeted Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Half Japanese main character, gay side character
Trigger Warnings: Murder, death (mentions of drowning, heart attack, car accident, heart conditions, on-page funeral, not descriptive), death of a grandparent, mention of alcoholism, underage drinking (chapters 3, 10, 15, 16, 25), mentions of vomit (chapters 2, 3, and 8), miscarriage (on-page, flashback #4, mentioned in chapter 25) racist language (chapter 1), slut-shaming (flashback #4), fire (arson, on-page chapter 25), teen pregnancy (flashback #3, mentioned in chapters 25, and 26)
Rating:  ★★★★☆

Adam, Anders, Allison, and Archer Story were disinherited by their mother in the summer of 1996. A few months after the death of their father, their mother sent each of them a note that simply said, “You know what you did” and never spoke to them again. Now, 24 years later, Milly (Allison’s daughter), Aubrey (Adam’s daughter), and Jonah (Anders’ son) receive a letter from their estranged grandmother telling them that she would like them to come work in her small beach town for the summer. While Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah expect to spend the summer finally getting to know the grandmother they’ve never met, they’re thrust into a world full of darker secrets than they could’ve ever imagined.

This is the fourth of McManus’ books that I’ve read and I think it’s my favorite so far. My favorite thing about McManus’ writing style is that her work is easy to absorb yourself in. From the very first page, The Cousins pulled me in and wouldn’t let me go until I found out the truth about the Story family and what really happened in the summer of 1996. I love a good mystery and the Story family provides a great one. What could make a woman disinherit all of her children in one night? Why would she then reach out to her estranged grandchildren? My mind was spinning the entire time I was reading and I couldn’t wait to find out the truth.

I particularly loved the bonds formed between Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah. An easy choice would’ve been to have the three fight and argue at every point since they really don’t know each other, and while they did have their moments, for the most part they actually brought out the best in one another. There’s a moment where Milly comments on how they’ve really become a team in her eyes and that shows throughout the book as they work together to learn the truth about their family. Their dynamic was one of my favorite parts of the story.

The mystery was, in my opinion, wonderfully done. I loved the subtlety of the writing. Throughout the story, small clues were dropped and it was clear that they were important, but there were many different ways that the story could go so you weren’t completely sure which direction the story was going to take. If you know me, then you know that my favorite thing about reading mystery novels is trying to discover the truth before the characters do. I will say that this one kept me guessing for quite some time, I had pieced together different bits of the truth, but a handful of pages before the big reveal there was a tiny clue that blew my mind. That one little piece of information put the full picture into focus and everything made absolute sense. The mystery unraveled at the perfect pace and made so much sense once it was revealed. It was a great plot twist!

I thought the addition of five flashback scenes to the summer of 1996 was a great choice for storytelling. The flashbacks serve as a companion to the main plot and give us insight as to what happened that summer. The scenes also serve as a great way to let us get to know the four Story siblings, Adam, Anders, Allison, and Archer. We hear much about them through their children and the townsfolk of Gull Cove Island, but the flashbacks really let us learn about their character. The flashback scenes also give great insight into the family dynamic of the Story’s and how that dynamic leads to their destruction. 

The following quote fully describes the captivating nature of Karen M. McManus’ latest novel, The Cousins.

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.

It was so easy to get lost in the world of the Story family, and I wasn’t prepared to leave until I had discovered everything. The Cousins is full of twists and turns that’ll keep you guessing right until the end and leave you wanting more. 

Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indie Bound

About the Author

Karen M. McManus is the #1 New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, Two Can Keep a Secret, One of Us Is Next, andThe Cousins. Her work has been translated into more than 40 languages worldwide. Karen lives in Massachusetts and holds a master’s degree in Journalism from Northeastern University, which she mostly uses to draft fake news stories for her novels.

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