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.
This was very different from any other young adult book I’ve read. Ever. Seventeen-year-old Riley’s father has been on death row since she was seven for crimes he claims he didn’t commit. Riley’s close relationship with her father is shown through weekly visits where the two hug and play chess. When the last of her father’s appeals run out, Riley must accept that she’s going to lose her father, something she can’t quite bring herself to accept. At least until her father confesses he’s guilty, telling Riley to move on with her life. Riley is devastated and confused, which gets worse when he immediately recants his confession. With the help of her only friend, adorable dark-haired Jordan, Riley decides she needs the truth, whatever that may be.
The main plot centers around Riley’s search for the truth and unfolds like a mystery. A secondary plot is the romance between Riley and Jordan. Riley’s family has many secrets and the more Riley learns, the more she begins to question everything, not just her father’s sudden confession and retraction. At times the pacing was slow, but the author throws in a number of twists to keep things interesting.
Riley is intriguing. Having essentially grown up with only her mother and a relationship with her father who is behind bars, her life is anything but normal. The story takes place over summer, so there is little interaction with other kids her age, with the exception of Jordan, whom she meets at a mall an hour away — a place she goes so she won’t be recognized. Being the daughter of a convicted serial killer can’t be easy and I would have loved to explore a little more of this aspect of her life. Riley’s father was an enigma throughout and her mother was complex. Jordan is likeable as the friend and love interest, but he isn’t as deeply developed as he could have been. This is Riley’s story though, and she’s pretty well fleshed out. On the other hand, Mr. Masters, the defense attorney for Riley’s dad, is well developed and a great foil for Riley.
What Didn’t Work for Me
1. Parts of the plot. I don’t want to give anything away, because there are some great twists, but not all of it works. There were a few things that happened that I thought needed more fleshing out for me to fully embrace them.
2. The cover. I don’t think the cover does the story justice.
3. Jordan. He’s interesting right off the bat, but I never really understood why he was so devoted to Riley from the beginning. They don’t spend all that much time together before he’s dropping everything to help her out, pledging his enduring loyalty.
What I Enjoyed About The Row
1. The chess. I love how the author weaves in the game of chess throughout, drawing parallels between the game and the plot.
2. Riley. She’s sympathetic, smart, determined, and tough. She’s not perfect by any means. There are many times she makes huge mistakes, but it’s easy to forgive her because so much of how she reacts is based on her unorthodox upbringing.
3. The plot. I love both the mystery aspect and the young adult romance. Both are well done and tie together nicely.
4. The law. I love legal thrillers and this almost reads like one from a teen’s point of view.
5. Mr. Masters. Riley’s dad’s law partner, defense attorney, and Riley’s surrogate father figure is fantastic, driving some of the best parts of the story.
The Row is a dark tale of a girl seeking truth and justice about and for the father she adores.
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
About the Book
Title: The Row
Author: J.R. Johansson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Genre: Young Adult Mystery/Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links: Goodreads | Amazon
About the Author
J.R. Johansson’s books have been published in a dozen languages and more than twenty countries worldwide. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. She lives inUtah with two sons, a wonderful husband, three cats, and a hot tub named Valentino.
She is represented by the stellar Kathleen Rushall of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.