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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
Top customer reviews
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.
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 has been set. With the help of Jordan, a guy she meets at the mall with whom she has a deeper connection than she realizes, she'll do whatever it takes to prove her father's innocence.
THE ROW kept me guessing almost until the end. I was almost certain I knew the identity of the killer from the beginning but I was wrong. Unlike other books where protagonists try to uncover evidence to a crime, JR Johansson wisely didn't make the teens smarter than the cops. Riley and Jordan didn't break into evidence or obtain evidence the police overlooked. They merely persisted in asking questions and the dominos began to fall.
I liked and rooted for Riley. Her loyalty to her father was admirable. I could see why she'd put him on a pedestal, to protect herself and see him as a good man in a bad situation.
Johansson took a lot of liberties with visiting death row including allowing contact and adding a new visitor without screening or approval from the inmate. Riley and Jordan's meeting was way too coincidental as were other conveniences, which kept THE ROW from being a five star read.
The Row by J.R. Johansson
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: October 11, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
What I Liked:
WOAH. I had a feeling that I would enjoy this book, but dang. I really really enjoyed it. I've read all of Johansson's published books - Insomnia, Paranoia, Mania, Cut Me Free, and now this one - and I have to say, despite my varying ratings, this one is probably my favorite of her books. This book was so engrossing and a little twisted, and I couldn't read it fast enough.
Riley is used to being the girl whose father is on death row. When she was six, her father was convicted of murdering three women. Eleven years later, he has maintained his innocence, and Riley has grown up believing that he will be released someday, because he didn't do those crimes. But when the latest hearing goes poorly, and her father only has a month before execution, Riley scrambles to find out more details about the case. She was so young when everything went down - what really happened? Riley digs deep to uncover shocking truths about the case, her parents, and the murders.
I could not put this book down, and read it in one sitting. It's getting harder and harder to just sit for hours and read, without getting up to do this or that, work or schools, etc. But this book had my attention and held it until the end. If I say nothing else, let me say that this book was so engrossing and page-turning. Johansson sets the tone and there is no way I was putting this one down until I was finished. I needed answers as much as Riley did!
I liked Riley and was totally behind her drive to find answers. Her father has four weeks to live, and she needs some of the blanks to be filled. One thing that I really liked about her was that she knew she wasn't going to make a difference in the case or find some groundbreaking clue that none of the lawyers saw - she wanted answers for herself, because there were so many things kept from her because of how young she was when the murders first happened. Riley is so tough and strong, not in a physical way necessarily, but mentally and emotionally. She's grown up visiting her father for two hours on a Friday. She's grown up with a stressed mother who has gotten fired from one job to the other because of her husband. Riley and her mother have dealt with so much, but both have stood behind Riley's father every step of the way. The family loyalty was pretty great, especially on Riley's part.
The mystery of it all was so fascinating. Did her father kill those women? Did he not? If he didn't, who did? Why would he confess that he did do the murders, but then take it back? One way or another, there are only four weeks left, and Riley wants answers. I loved how Johansson spun us round and round, bouncing suspicion from one character to the other. The only person who I felt was supremely innocent was Riley, and Jordan.
Riley meets Jordan at the mall one day, early in the book, with his little brother Matthew. After this encounter, Riley and Jordan become friends. Riley tells Jordan about her father and the case, and Jordan wants to help her. Jordan becomes a very important part of the story, and an anchor to Riley. He is sweet and caring, but also protective of her. He's such a nice guy, even with everything he has going on in his personal life. He is a good friend to Riley, and eventually a good more-than-friend.
Yup, there is some subtle romance in this book. Very minimal, but very sweet. I shipped Riley and Jordan from the start, and I'm glad to see things work out for them.
I won't say more about the case and who actually did it but... trust me, the build-up is worth it. You think you know what happened, and who did it, but you don't. I came up with so many potential suspects, and even towards the end, I guessed wrong. Johansson wrote this very well! Overall, I was really pleased with this book.
What I Did Not Like:
I can't think of anything specific that I didn't like!
Would I Recommend It:
I do recommend this one, if you like suspense novels! I don't seem to read much suspense/mystery novels in YA, so this was a welcome change. I like Johansson's novels but this one is probably my favorite. It's too bad it seems to be flying under the radar because it is such a fascinating, disturbing, and intriguing book!
4 stars. I am curious to see what Johansson will come up with next! I think this is her best yet, so I'm excited to see.
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