The Row by J.R. Johansson
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by Macmillan on October 11th 2016
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, Death & Dying, Family, Law & Crime, Young Adult, Young Adult Fiction
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.
The Row was beyond spectacular. I mean, by the synopsis, I knew it had to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be that good. It had mystery and intrigue, love and loss, and it combined all those elements to make for a whirlwind thriller that kept me on my toes.
Riley Beckett had a strict routine. Every Friday, she visited her dad on the row—death row. For eleven years, her dad stood by his innocence, until the Supreme Court turned down his last appeal and his execution date was set in stone. Then Riley’s visits were numbered, and her dad does the unthinkable: admits he was guilty. Riley Beckett had pluck. She didn’t back down and refused to give up because it would have been the easiest route. When her dad admitted guilt to the very thing that had shaped her life, her world got turned on its axis, but she still refused to let up. I loved her character. Her voice was genuine and real, and the pent up frustrations that she had toward the justice system and the doubts that clouded her mind about her father were artfully presented on each page. She showed that strength doesn’t come from always being the winner but from standing tall when the whole world is against you.
“If I cry for a monster, do I become one? How can I mourn a murderer?”
Jordan instantly had my attention. He had such a huge heart, and I couldn’t imagine a better way for him and Riley to meet. His little brother, Matthew, was almost too adorable for words. Jordan’s demons were different but as bad as Riley’s. The two shouldn’t have worked, and there were moments when they didn’t get along at all. They argued and disagreed, but they also leaned on one another for support. While they were on different sides of the case, each just wanted the truth. It made them an impervious duo. I did have a few doubts toward the beginning, but the more they were around each other and showed the other support, the more I knew that it wouldn’t have worked if it had been any other way.
I had no idea who to trust throughout this entire novel. I questioned everyone and thought everyone could have done it at some point. Even Mr. Masters became a suspect, and I loved him to death. He acted as Riley’s father when hers couldn’t meet expectations. The questions didn’t let up, and like Riley, each new bit of information made my head spin.
“So screw all of them. Screw chance, fate, karma, luck, providence, and everything in between. With only fifteen days left, I’m certainly not waiting around for them to show up now.”
I haven’t read something this heart racing in a long time. I could barely put it down. My eyes blurred over the words a few times while reading in bed because I didn’t want to stop reading. Full of mystery, thrills, and twists that you’ll never see coming, The Row has set the standard high for my TBR pile.
Riley is a people watcher. She regularly escapes from her own problems by going to a mall on the other side of Houston and seeing what other people are dealing with. Sometimes she even pretends to be someone else. But on this particular outing near the beginning of the book, she ends up meeting someone who makes her want to be herself…she also meets his hot older brother, Jordan. Enjoy!
On a Wednesday afternoon, the mall isn’t too busy, but there are about ten tables already taken with late lunch customers. I order a thick Oreo milkshake and start studying the people around me. One nearby table is full of teens. I scoot to the edge of my booth and pretend to scroll through my phone as I try to eavesdrop on their conversation. Before I get a chance to hear much, though, I feel an impact against my right sandal.
When I bend over, the first thing I see is a red Matchbox car. I pick it up and squint at it.
“Sorry about that. Driving skills obviously need improvement.” A deep voice speaks from the booth behind mine and I spin to face it. My first thought isn’t exactly articulate: Wow, hotness. His warm eyes are a slightly lighter shade of brown than his dark olive complexion.
Hot Guy extends his hand. I freeze, not sure if I should shake it or stick the car into it. As if he can read my mind, he drops his hand back to his lap and provides me with an alternate option.
“Unless you’re interested in joining our competition? Any experience on a pit crew, by chance?” His eyes now have a wicked sparkle to them that draws me in.
“Pit crew?” I raise my eyebrows.
“Girls don’t like cars.” I hear a small voice from the other side of his booth and slide to the side a bit to see who spoke. A seriously adorable little boy looks up at me. He can only be Hot Guy’s little brother. His Angry Birds T-shirt is just a smidge too big for him. He has the same skin and dark wavy hair, the same athletic build, the same square jawline and Roman nose—he is his brother in miniature. When he beams up at me, one of his front teeth is missing. “Hi!”
“Hi . . .” I can’t help but smile back at him.
“What’s your name? You don’t like cars, right?” He continues to smile at me while I consider my answer. The kid couldn’t be more than six years old. “I’m Matthew.”
“I actually do like cars.”
“Then you’re cool.” He lifts his cupped hands up and releases no fewer than eight cars onto the tabletop. His big brother frantically shoots his arms out, trying to prevent them all from careening off onto the floor.
Matthew slides out of his seat and walks to my table. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
Maybe all of my friends should be six. The questions of children seem to be so much simpler than those of adults. Something deep in me really doesn’t want to lie to this kid. “I’m Riley.”
His brother jerks his head up with an embarrassed expression. “Matthew, she doesn’t have to tell you her name if she doesn’t want to.”
“But . . . she already did.” Matthew looks at his brother like he just said the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. He sticks his small hand out to shake mine.
“Nice to meet you,” he says, sincerely. The gesture melts me and I place my hand in his. All my worry about Daddy’s hearing dissolves as he grips my hand firmly and shakes it like this is the most important meeting each of us will ever have. “Now, tell me what your favorite color is.”
After tossing the cars into a green plastic container, Matthew’s brother gets up and puts his hands on Matthew’s shoulders. “Sorry, he has no filter with strangers.”
“It’s fine. I like being told that I’m cool.” I shrug before lowering my eyes to Matthew. “My favorite color is purple.”
Matthew dives for the green bin and starts digging through it without another word.
“I think that was your official invitation to play . . . in case you didn’t recognize it.” Hot Guy rubs his hand on the back of his neck. His cheeks flush slightly and then he smiles at me. “I’m Jordan, by the way.”
“Your brother is really cute.” I lower my voice so Matthew can’t hear us.
“Yeah, that’s what all the girls say.” Jordan shakes his head.
“Oh, I see.” I lift one eyebrow, deciding these two might be the perfect pair to distract myself with today. “This is part of your game then? Bring your adorable brother to the mall. Hit girls with tiny cars. Have him get them to tell you their names . . . very smooth. Will he ask for my number next?”
Jordan looks horrified for an instant before he picks up on the fact that I’m joking and a grin spreads across his face. “Or maybe we’re part of a research project and he’s just a very small scientist.”
The server comes with my milkshake and I stick my spoon into it. “What would you be researching?”
“The effects of tiny cars on complete strangers.” Jordan sticks his hands into his jeans pockets as his face turns mockingly serious.
Matthew drops a bright purple convertible onto the table in front of me. I pick it up to look at it and before I know it, Matthew is pushing himself and his green bin of cars into the seat on the other side of my booth.
Jordan blinks at Matthew and then me before shaking his head. “Buddy, we need to stay in our booth. I think we’ve bothered Riley enough for one afternoon.”
Matthew freezes in the middle of organizing his cars on my table and looks at me in shock. “I’m bothering you?”
I shake my head fast and firm. “Not at all.”
“He’s fine.” I look up at Jordan and then gesture to the seat beside Matthew. “Looks like I’m officially part of your experiment—or pit crew—depending on where this afternoon takes us. Care to have a seat?”
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