The Cousins

Book cover image of the book The Cousins.

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Book Review

Milly, Aubrey and Jonah Story are cousins who barely know one another. And they’ve never even met their grandmother. She disinherited their parents years before with a note that read, “You know what you did.” But now, 24 years later, the next generation of Storys each receive a letter inviting them to work at their rich and reclusive grandmother’s island resort for the summer. The cousins’ parents make one thing crystal clear: not going is not an option.

Plot Summary

Family First, Always.

That’s the Story family motto. Which seems completely bonkers to Milly when she hears about it. For one thing, she barely knows her uncles and their kids. And even now in her late teens, she’s never even met her grandmother.

That rich and reclusive matriarch mysteriously disinherited Milly’s mom, Allison, and Milly’s uncles, Adam, Anders and Asher (Yeah, how’s that for a family full of A-listers?) long ago. They all received a note from their mother’s lawyer, barring them from ever coming back to their New England home. Those missives all held the identical brusque declaration: “You know what you did.”

Milly’s mom hasn’t got a clue what the offense was. Or so she claims. And the only thing Milly knows is that the whole Story clan has been pretty disconnected in the many years since. But it seems that’s about to change.

Twenty-four years after that disinheriting note went out, a new letter arrives: this one for Milly. And it invites her to come and work at her grandmother’s exclusive island resort for the summer. Gull Cove Island is a place where rich and semi-famous people spend ridiculous amounts of money pretending they’re getting back to nature. Now Milly is being called there too. And it turns out her cousins, Aubrey and Jonah, both received a similar request.

As far as Milly is concerned, though, her grandmother can take a long walk off a short New England pier. This woman whom she has never met, who didn’t come to her mother’s wedding, who hasn’t called or emailed or dropped a single word in 20-plus years, now wants her to work at her hotel!? Forget it.

But Milly’s mother—and all the cousins’ parents, Milly finds out later—makes one thing perfectly clear: The Story cousins will be spending the summer at Gull Cove! Like it or not, there is a lot at stake here.

Milly is pretty sure that it’s a “lot” with a dollar sign attached. But she can’t help but wonder what else is in play. What actually happened 24 years ago?

And what happened to “Family First, Always”?

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

Although it doesn’t really matter much to Milly, money is god for many of the Story family members. Milly’s grandfather turned the Gull Cove Island from a scruffy nothing into a multi-million-dollar retreat. And since his death, all the money and power has fallen to Milly’s grandmother, Mildred. Whatever she says is instantly put into place by everyone around her.

Authority Roles

Mildred Story is detached and aloof and a horrible example from an authority perspective. But we later learn that there are twisted reasons for the person she’s become. Most of the other adults in Milly’s life are equally messed up. All four of the Story children (Allison, Anders, Adam and Asher) are divorced, alcoholic or compulsive liars. It’s implied that an abundance of money in their youth contributed to those bad outcomes, but we also learn that they all made a collective choice as young adults that haunts them and essentially crippled them emotionally.

As a result of all the lies and manipulation that Milly, Aubrey and Jonah are faced with in Gull Cove, they all break the rules and even cross the line of lawful actions at one point. Eventually Milly and her mom connect, reveal some truths, and move toward a more healthy and lovingrelationship. And Milly, Aubrey and Jonah all form a close relationship with their uncle Asher, who’s an alcoholic. That connection motivates Asher to better his life and seek help for his addiction. 

Profanity & Violence

Foul language is not prevalent throughout the novel, but we do find occasional burst of profanity, including f- and s-words and some other lighter crudities.

As mentioned, Asher is an alcoholic. And his addiction drives him to drunken behavior repeatedly. In flashback scenes, we see his heavy drinking at its beginning stages. In fact, all of the—then late teen, early twenties—Story siblings have a tendency to slip bottles of booze out of their parent’s stores and drink too much at parties. Milly and her teen cousins drink, too. One teen carries a flask and pours booze into other’s drinks. And Milly gets so tipsy on champagne at one party that she begins to stagger about and makes some poor, dizzy-headed choices.

[Spoiler Warning] There is a mystery in the Story family’s past that Milly, Aubrey and Jonah slowly unravel. It’s filled with lies, deception and theft. That mystery also involves murder. And that first murder leads to several others in the following years.

Sexual Content

We hear stories of several of the Story siblings having sexual hook ups with other teens and twentysomethings in the past. We never directly read about any of those interactions, but it’s implied that if they’re spending time with someone of the opposite sex (or same sex) they’re having sex with them. One young woman in the group gets pregnant from an interlude on the beach. But then loses the child in a miscarriage. We’re told that Asher is gay. One of the Story siblings, as an adult, cheats on his spouse and has sex with a female coach at the high school. They have an out-of-wedlock child together.

Milly finds herself attracted to a teen her own age and the two flirt and eventually kiss passionately.

Discussion Topics

How was the Story family’s motto “Family first, always” applied in their case? Do you think that motto has positive applications?

Something important happened between Milly and her mom that shifted their relationship. Could that sort of thing help other parents and kids?

Are there lessons to be learned here about the sexual choices some people make as teens and adults? What about alcohol use? Do you think there are some applicable things of note in that area? What do you think the book is saying about great wealth?

What did you think about this book’s mystery twist? Was it believable? How was it made possible?

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments

This is a well-written, well-paced YA mystery. Parents of younger readers should note, however, that there are several secular assumptions in the story mix that kids are automatically going to start drinking alcohol and having sex in their teen years. On the other hand, those inclusions could potentially open a door for some important parent/teen conversations about those topics.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose

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