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The Row Hardcover – October 11, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—When Riley was six, her father was sentenced to death for the murders of three women. Eleven years of appeals later, Riley has never doubted he was wrongly convicted—until he admits his guilt to her during a prison visit. Is he telling a white lie to help her move forward, or is he finally coming clean? With weeks left until his execution, Riley embarks on a mission to finally confront the truth of these murders and hopefully exonerate her father. Assisted by Jordan, a boy whose family is also connected to the atrocities, she unearths family secrets and as many hints to her dad's guilt as to his innocence. Amid the high-stakes plot twists, the author keeps Riley and Jordan grounded in the dark reality of their lives, showing Riley's despair and fear as well as her admirable tenacity. Johansson has established herself as a go-to writer of emotionally resonant teen thrillers. VERDICT This timely story, evocative of the Serial podcast and Netflix's Making a Murderer, will also appeal to reluctant readers and fans of April Henry and Barry Lyga.—Ann Foster, Saskatoon Public Library, Canada
“Johansson has established himself as a go-to writer of emotionally resonant teen thrillers...This timely story, evocative of the Serial podcast and Neflix's Making a Murderer, will also appeal to reluctant readers and fans of April Henry and Barry Lyga.” ―School Library Journal
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Top Customer Reviews
Then one day, his execution imminent, her father confesses to her, and it turns Riley's world inside out.
Her dad takes back his confession almost immediately, but it's too late to restore Riley's faith is him. Either way, he's lied to her, and it makes her wonder what else he's hiding. She's also distrustful of her mother, who has stopped visiting her father each week and is always at work. Riley is determined to discover the truth behind her parents, no matter what she discovers. Eager to help her is her new, and only, friend, Jordan. But he just happens to be the son of the cop who arrested Riley's father, and he believes the right man is already behind bars.
"I've always believed my parents-- always."
If that sounds naive, it's in part because Riley comes across as much younger than seventeen. I cringed the million times she calls her father "Daddy." I don't know if this down-aging is a problem with her characterization, or if the author has made a deliberate effort to make it seem as if Riley is suffering arrested development on account of her father's conviction.
The mystery part of this book surpassed my expectations. I was pretty sure I had it figured out, and I was so wrong. I loved the ending. The romance didn't impress me as much. I liked some aspects of Jordan, but he wasn't a very realistic character. Right after meeting Riley, he becomes oddly obsessed with helping her, and, honestly, she's a pill toward him the bulk of the time. I don't know what Jordan is getting out of their relationship.
Overall impressions: this is a solid YA mystery novel.
What do you look for when you read a book? An escape? A glimpse into someone’s past? A way to get in touch with your emotions? Or all of the above? One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because it exercises both my imagination and my emotions. I read a lot of books, and those that I remember the most–that stand out–are the most intense ones. That’s why J.R. Johansson’s books grab me every time: their intensity. Her latest book doesn’t disappoint.
Listen to this description of the plot on the back cover: “Seventeen-year-old Riley Becket 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 visit with him. 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 back his words almost immediately, but she cannot forget what he’s told her.” Whoa. It’s intense before you even read the first page.
But as one reads the book, one finds that it is not so much an intensity of action, per se, although there is some of that, but an intensity of emotion. It’s the feeling of waiting on pins-and-needles throughout the entire book for an important question to be answered. It’s not only the question of whether or not her father really is guilty, but also the question of who Riley has to trust in order to answer the question. There is the son of the police officer who arrested her father, a young man who has problems of his own but who vehemently wants to help her. And there is her mother, who strives so hard to protect Riley from the long-term aftermath of her husband’s conviction but who struggles under the weight she holds.
This book is most definitely, then, a mystery, whereas her previous books–the Nightwalker series, in particular–had definite horror elements. There are no vampires or werewolves or boys who can’t sleep because they see the nightmares of the person with whom they last made eye contact during the day. It’s different than her last book Cut Me Free in that it doesn’t deal with abuse. Just by virtue of those differences, it speaks to J.R.’s talent as a writer.
But its strengths are more than that. Its strength is in its pacing. Too many mysteries get strung out far too long, with not enough punch along the way. The Row brings to mind wisps of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas books, dramatic and tense and full of twists and turns that keep one guessing until the very last, nail-biting end. There were so many turns, my neck got sore. But all of those turns pushed inexorably toward the final conclusion–always those questions of whether or not her father is guilty and who can she trust.
And its other strength is characters that seem so real. Listen to this, from page 237:
“Moving around the chair, I inch up so close to him that he fills my senses with everything that is Jordan to me. I’m not sure if it’s his cologne or what, but it smells warm and spicy. It’s the kind of scent that I wish could be made into a large, soft blanket that I could wrap myself up in.”
Or this, from page 151:
“When I finally make myself look up with the intention of brushing him off, I find that I can’t. A deep frown creases his brow and makes the shadows around his eyes appear deep, haunting. He seems nervous and worried–and scared. Exactly what I feel. I don’t know how to react to that. Jordan should be my opposite. He is the son of the cop who put my father in prison. His life has always represented justice and the right of the law, while my life represented injustice and the mistakes of humanity. How can we possibly ever be on the same page?”
When I say that the characters seem real, I mean that their emotional reactions are in perfect proportion to the many plot turns and revelations. The ability to create those reactions and then develop a plot out of them that doesn’t lag or get bogged down in emotion is another mark of a good writer.
All in all, then, The Row by J.R. Johansson was a delight to read.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Riley Beckett has just four weeks to prove her father isn't a serial killer. After twelve years on death row he's exhausted his appeals and the execution date...Read more
The Row was beyond spectacular.Read more
I’m a huge “Dexter” fan (Dex, I love you. Deb, I love you.Read more
I seriously loved all of the characters so much.Read more