Reading a novel by Karen M. McManus is like a breath of fresh air – her stories are incredibly unique and fast paced, and with all of her mysteries, she reminds us that young adult doesn’t always equate to romance. She creates suspense, has us guessing what’s coming next, and has us sitting on the edge of our seats as mystery unfolds.
And her novel, The Cousins, which came out last year, is just as riveting. It’s different than some of her other novels, because the central idea and build up of the story doesn’t surround itself with a murder. This time it’s family drama where everyone involved claims to have no idea what’s going on.
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.
Once I started this book I couldn’t put it down and pretty much read it in one sitting, there was something a little addictive about it. It’s not a hard read, which is good for a young adult novel, but still has enough complexity to keep you interested and keep you guessing.
McManus skilfully manages to weave everything together in this story without leaving anything out and considering how many strings there were in this story, which really spans across 25 years, that is some feat.
But probably the most impressive thing about The Cousins is that it carries some mature and dark themes for a novel in the young adult genre. Including secrets, the bonds of family, guilt, the lingering effects of violence, the past vs the present, survivor’s guilt, inheritance and impulsiveness.
But possibly one of the most touching and admirable things about this book is it’s message.
McManus uses the events that span across two lifetimes, really, to illustrate an important message to her readers: You need to forgive others, instead of causing more harm carrying a grudge, and yourself, so you can move on and leave the past where it is.
We see this message through the eyes of the three cousins as they reflect on their parents lives and their own lives.
Without exposing too many spoilers, things happen across the events of the cousins time visiting their grandmother – things go wrong and spin out of control. Reflecting the way real life goes. But what they see through is that they learn the lesson of forgiveness through their parents, who never mastered the art, and lived the rest of their lives holding grudges and lived in pain.
When faced with the same choice as their parents, the youngsters learn what they never did – that they need to let things go and learn to forgive, even if they don’t forget, because otherwise they carry on the chain and continue to cause more harm.
Near the end of the book, Milly is given some advice by her uncle. He said
“It’s alright to be mad, Milly,” he whispers. “You’re entitled to that feeling. But give some thought to forgiveness too, okay? If there’s one characteristic I wish the Story family had more of, it’s that.”– Karen M. McManus, The Cousins
But the lesson about forgiveness isn’t just about forgiving others, it’s also abut forgiving yourself so you’re not carrying guilt and can move on with life, leaving the past behind.
The same uncle gives his sister, Allison, some advice on this. He says:
“You didn’t set out to deliberately hurt anyone. Forgive yourself, Allison. Twenty-five years is a long time to hang on to guilt.”– Karen M. McManus, The Cousins
At the end of the day, forgiveness is the only way to move forward from the things that hurt you or cause you pain.