Book Review: The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

The UK paperback cover of The Cousins by Karen M. McManus shows the silhouettes of three legs above a shadowy beach house.

Although I’m new to Karen M.McManus’ novels, I’m no stranger to the buzz surrounding her work so I jumped at the chance to read her latest book as part of The Write Reads blog tour.

This turned out to be exactly the dose of pageturning medicine I needed. The Cousins is a YA Thriller with more twists than a bowl of spaghetti. Written from multiple POVs present and past, the characters solve a decades-old mystery when their estranged grandmother summons them to work at her elite East Coast resort, Cull Cove Island. The writing is punchy and smart, with enough to depth to make this a truly satisfying read. NOTE there is a spoiler at the very end.

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Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, 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.

The Cousins

The relationships between the three cousins – Milly, Aubrey and Jonah, and their parents – form the emotional heart of this story and the author develops these bonds with real care. The multiple first-person POVs allow us to really get inside the characters’ heads and see the world from their perspective as they try to make sense of what’s happening on the island. It’s a hard technique to pull off so all credit to Karen M.McManus for making this look effortless. I especially liked Aubrey and Milly’s voices and found their development convincing.

To add to the complexity, there are occasional flashbacks to show how the cousins’ parents interacted on the island as young adults. These insights offer clues to the many mysteries that exist on Gull Cove Island as well as revealing new facets of the parents’ personalities, which again combine to add extra layers to the narrative.

Gull Cove Island

In true thriller-style, the island plays an important role in The Cousins with its hidden corners, closed community and isolation from the outside world. I loved the idea of this being an elite resort, and it provided a great backdrop for the story.

I have to admit that at certain points I was reminded of one of my favourite YA books, We Were Liars, which shares certain similarities with The Cousins, but McManus’ plot is completely different and very much rooted in contemporary society. Milly, Aubrey and Jonah are working on the island so they live in dorms rather than luxury beach houses; they hang out with staff members rather than the leaders of the community. This serves to further accentuate the gulf between them and their grandmother.

Unexpected Reveals

One of the most enjoyable aspects of The Cousins is the amount of surprise tacks that happen throughout the book. The chapters unfold through a concertina of ever-changing scenarios. One minute you think you have a grip on the situation and the next, your understanding changes completely. Although this is a very readable book, expect to exercise more than a few mental gymnastics before you reach the end.

And speaking of endings, I was generally sated by the wrap up at the close of The Cousins. Itt hit a nice balance between tying up loose ends and leaving a few to fly in the wind. If I’m truthful, I would have liked a few more clever revelations, but maybe I’m just being greedy!

What Happens at the End of The Cousins?

Quite a few people have asked what actually happens at the end of The Cousins as it isnt’t that straightforward! I thought about sharing the conclusion here, but don’t want to ruin it for others so if you want to clarify things after finishing the book, please feel free to drop me a line!

A big thank you to The Write Reads for inviting us to join this blog tour. Although I wouldn’t have normally picked up a book like The Cousins, I now understand why Karen M. McManus’s novels are so popular. Her writing is incisive, accessible and totally addictive. If you’re struggling with a lockdown reading slump, this could be the key to opening those pages again.

  • Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s UK
  • Publication Date: 3 December 2020
  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 9780241376942
  • Number of pages: 336

Support your local independent bookshop and buy The Cousins by Karen M. MacManus from Bookshop.Org

If you enjoyed this, you might also like:

Book Review: The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Book Review: The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff

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  1. Ellie Rayner
    December 3, 2020 / 1:01 pm

    Great review! I’m glad you liked this book. We Were Liars is one of my favourite books too! 🙂

    • thebookfamilyrogerson
      December 29, 2020 / 8:47 pm

      We Were Liars seems to divide people but I really like the premise and her writing style.

      • Ellie Rayner
        December 30, 2020 / 9:12 am

        I did too and yeah, I’ve heard so many people say they hated it!

        • thebookfamilyrogerson
          December 30, 2020 / 9:45 pm

          It’s quirky but that’s the reason I like it. E Lockhart really challenges the reader.

          • Ellie Rayner
            December 31, 2020 / 8:51 am

            Yes, that’s true, I had no idea what was happening and even in rereading it, I was able to be shocked again!

          • thebookfamilyrogerson
            January 5, 2021 / 3:59 pm

            In my mind that’s the mark of a great film or book – it can be reread in different ways.

          • Ellie Rayner
            January 5, 2021 / 10:02 pm

            Yes, very true!

  2. Kristin
    January 31, 2021 / 10:32 pm

    Who wrote the letter at the end?! I can’t figure it out!

    • thebookfamilyrogerson
      February 1, 2021 / 7:00 pm

      Ooo I’d better not giveaway too much info here but it was from the sister. Hope that’s enough to go on but if not send me an email via our contact form!

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