The Row

The Row – J.R. Johansson – Farrar, Straus, and Giroux – Published 11 October 2016



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.

My thoughts

Who suffers in the aftermath of a horrible crime? The victims? The victims’ families? The man who may have been wrongly charged and imprisioned? The perpetrator’s family? The Row gives an inside look at the cost of defending your family, even when the world says they are unworthy, when the world judges you along with the guilty.

Riley’s father is on death row for a series of murders he says he didn’t commit. Riley has never doubted his innocence. To her, he is her father. The smart and kind man who taught her chess during her weekly visits and wrote her a letter for everyday she couldn’t visit him. But with his execution date drawing near, Riley’s father unexpectedly confesses to Riley. He retracts his confession, tells Riley it was only to help her move on, but the only thing Riley knows now is that he has lied to her – she’s just not sure if the lie is about being guilty or innocent. When she meets Jordan, the son of the man responsible for putting her father in jail, Riley is surprised to find she enjoys spending time with him. Together they attempt to discover the truth about Riley’s father once and for all.

It is interesting to have a story told from the guilt party’s family’s perspective. If you are looking for a book that supports the victims’ families then look elsewhere, because this is Riley’s story. She is just as much of a victim in what appears to her to be a faulty justice system and a world in which people seek to punish her along with her father.

Riley does come across as a little immature. She is intelligent and sensible, but her language choice and perspective can seem younger than her sixteen years. But perhaps this is understandable given her circumstances and relationship with her father.

Jordan, the police chief’s son, is a great addition to the story – another angle and person impacted by the crimes in a way one usually doesn’t think about. Jordan is very patient and understanding with Riley, even when she doubts him. He cares about her and it’s sweet to see him so supportive. He also rides a motorbike. So there’s that.

When I’m reading a mystery I like to suspect everyone. I was even thinking Jordan could have been responsible at one point until I remembered he would have only been six and it was unlikely he committed multiple counts of torture and murder. Suspecting everyone has its perks, I correctly guessed who the culprit was but was surprised at how it all unfolded.

The Row is a great addition to the collection of intriguing and thoughtful YA mystery books.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction.

Genre: Mystery/Thriller.

Themes: Murder, romance, crime, death row, death penalty, serial killers, justice system, law, family, parents, detective and mystery.

Reading age guide: Ages 12 and up.

Advisory: Descriptions of murder, murder victims, and torture injuries.

Published: 11 October 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 352 pages.

ISBN: 9780374300258

Find it on Goodreads