Book Review: The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row

Title: The Row
Author: J.R. Johansson
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Publisher (ALA)
Format: Paperback ARC
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Thriller

A death sentence. A family torn apart. One girl’s hunt for the truth.
Seventeen-year-old Riley Beckett is no stranger to prison. Her father is a convicted serial killer on death row who has always maintained that he was falsely accused. Riley has never missed a single visit with her father. She wholeheartedly believes that he is innocent.
Then, a month before the execution date, Riley’s world is rocked when, in an attempt to help her move on, her father secretly confesses to her that he actually did carry out the murders. He takes it back almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her. Determined to uncover the truth for her own sake, she discovers something that will forever change everything she’s believed about the family she loves.
If everything around me changes, am I still the same? - Riley Beckett

Boy did I ever miscalculate a book. When I first saw the cover and read the blurb, I honestly thought that this book would focus more on the death row aspect and the emotional turmoil that drama inflicts on the family. When in fact, it was a suspense thriller and I couldn't put it down. It had me reading into the wee hours of the morning.

First, I really think the title of the book should be changed to "The Red Herring." Because this book has a lot of them. In fact, it's the author's biggest strength. But let me back up for a moment.

We have Riley, a tough-as-nails high schooler who's been dealing with her father's incarceration and imminent execution since she was 6-years-old. Now one can imagine, at least empathize, with a person who's been greatly affected by a traumatic event. Think about being that young and awoken in the middle of the night to police officers dragging your father away in handcuffs for the brutal murder of three women. Now add in the fact that in the aftermath, friends and neighbors now treat you like a social pariah. It definitely lays the foundation for Riley's character, who doesn't easily trust but who is whip smart, strong, and tenacious.

The sincerity is what I enjoyed most of the character development. Even when it came to Jordan, who is a guy Riley meets and her eventual love interest -- although not the main focus of the book. Just when I thought he was too selfless and too eager to help Riley, the explanations and his background puts it all into context which definitely mitigated the "cheesy" factor for me. Once Riley's world falls apart because she doesn't know who to trust, she enlists his help. Like Riley, he also harbors some secrets of his own.

Riley has always believed that her father is innocent. In fact, her father himself has always claimed he's innocent. But on one fateful visit, her father confides that he is actually guilty. Which throws Riley's world into a tailspin and she sets out to find out the truth behind the lies. And here is where the mystery really gets going. She goes back to investigate the details of her father's case and all the people involved and by the middle of the book, I suspected everyone! The clues were so calculated and the pacing was so on point. I appreciate this so much and thought it was intelligently done. It's hard to review this without giving anything away (because the fun part is trying to figure things out), but I will say that there were some key scenes along the way that jarred me a bit.

J.R. Johansson did such an amazing job balancing the tender and heart-breaking moments surrounding family and the issues of loyalty with the rollercoaster of a thriller that I cannot urge you enough to go out and buy this one once it releases on October 11.


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