Review of The Row by J.R. Johansson

The Row by J.R. Johansson

Published on October 11, 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Source: ARC for review

Synopsis 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.

Review of The Row by J.R. Johansson

Before I stared reviewing YA, I read a lot of thrillers, mysteries and true crime.  So while I thought The Row would be right up my alley, I ended up having mixed feelings about it. 

That's possibly because I've read so many adult Silence of the Lambs-type books, in which an FBI agent/police officer/psychologist sets out to delve into the mind of a serial killer. I feel that these adult-oriented books offer more psychological complexity than this book did.

The main character in The Row is Riley, a girl whose father sits on death row after being convicted for killing several women. Riley's dad is running out of appeals, and she's trying not to run out of hope. 

When her father makes an unexpected statement to her during a visit, she's shocked and sets out to try to find out the truth about the crimes her father is accused of committing.

What I liked:

  • I liked Riley, though I thought her distinct voice (this takes place in Texas) seemed to flatten out as the book went on.
  • I liked that the book kept me guessing. I had several theories about the identity of the killer. I was partly right, but I thought the book did a good job of raising a lot of questions.
  • I thought Riley's relationship with her father (she visits him in prison) was interesting and well-portrayed. Also loved her relationship with her father's lawyer.

What I didn't love:

  • The romance in the book didn't really work for me. The fact that Riley ends up in a relationship with the son of the chief of police seemed a little too contrived. Then I thought he'd have more of a role in the book, but he seemed sort of like a hanger-on.
  • I thought that the book could have delved more into the (abnormal!) psychology of many of the characters. 

All that said, this book has a good amount of suspense and is a compelling read. While I wished for a little more, I can see from my Goodreads feed that this has wowed a lot of readers, so if appeals to you, give it a try. 


  1. I have to admit this has been on my radar! Thanks for your honest review!

  2. I'm really excited to start this.... but I was very surprised to find that the daughter had such a good relationship with her dad while he was on death row!! I wouldn't expect that! I haven't read adult psychological thrillers in a while (though I LOVE them), so maybe I'll be more impressed with this than you were. Great review!!

  3. I really enjoy suspense and thrillers myself but tend to space them out because of predictability. It definitely sounds like this one kept you guessing, even though there was a contrived romance. Lovely review Jen~!

  4. I don't use to read this kind of books, but I want to read some thrillers, so I might add this to my TBR.
    Great review, Jen.


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