If you’d like to find out more about the the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page. For now – let the hunt begin!
Directions: Below, you’ll notice that we’ve hidden our favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the green team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!).
Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.
Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by October 9th, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.
Today, we are hosting author J.R. Johansson on The Back of the Box for the YA Scavenger Hunt! We have a lot of favorite things but at least 23 of them can be fond in her amazing fiction.
J.R. Johansson is the author of Cut Me Free and the Night Walkers series. She has a B.S. degree in public relations and a background in marketing. She credits her abnormal psychology minor with inspiring many of her characters. She lives in Utah with her husband, their two sons, three crazy cats, and a hot tub named Valentino.
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 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. 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.
I wanted to do a special excerpt for you today. I picked one of my favorite scenes from my upcoming YA Thriller, THE ROW, which releases on October 11th! This scene is five chapters in, so we’ve gotten to know Riley and her family a bit at this point. In this scene, they are in the courtroom waiting to hear the results of her father’s latest appeal. It’s one of my favorites because it was so interesting to write. Most courtroom scenes are written from the point of view of the victim, their families, the lawyers, or even the accused. It was very different and powerful to see it through the eyes of the family of someone who has already been convicted. You’ll see why it’s so different in this excerpt.
Enjoy! –J.R. Johansson
THE ROW – Chapter 5
The courtroom smells of sweat and fear. People shift awkwardly in their seats. They don’t look much at each other, just mostly at us—they don’t even try not to stare. I grab Mama’s hand and don’t look them in the eye, but I can’t help but wish we could face today alone instead of with a hundred hostile strangers.
As much as I hate it, I understand them perfectly. They’re both fascinated and frightened by my father and his family. We are the circus freaks in this charade. Maybe I should be better equipped to entertain them, but I’m not. I keep my appearance as generic as possible for every court appearance in the hopes that I can bore them into forgetting me. I wear large sunglasses even indoors, no earrings or hair accessories. I keep my dark hair straight and in a low ponytail. If I could find an outfit to blend in with the wooden bench I perch on, I probably would.
I can’t even bring myself to look at the people on the opposite side of the aisle. If the strangers in this room have hostile gazes, the glances from the families of the victims are downright hateful. I’m sad for them. I really wish they could find the justice they think they have, but it’s not here. I’ve never seen justice here.
In some ways, we’re the same. All bound together by a stranger who committed a few acts of senseless violence. I expected the families of the victims to go away once Daddy was found guilty, but that was naïve of me. They’re here for every hearing, every appeal—just like us. None of us, on either side of this situation, have been able to move on.
Mama and I have been told to sit quietly, no matter what the result may be. And we’ve done our duty every time. We might as well be bound and gagged in this room. We’re helpless to do anything here, as we always have been. The fact that we are sure he’s innocent doesn’t matter, and it never will.
Daddy is here to play their games and guess at their questions. All in the vain hope that the correct answer might convince them of the innocence he has argued for almost twelve years. That he might someday earn his freedom.
I’m starting to believe that kind of freedom doesn’t exist—not for us. This holding pattern of a life may be all we ever know.
Mr. Masters and Stacia stop beside us on their way up to the front. Stacia used to be Daddy’s assistant. Daddy probably doesn’t need legal help as much as the other Polunsky inmates, being an excellent lawyer himself. But they’re the only other people in the world who believe Daddy is innocent besides our family, and we’ll take any help and positivity we can get.
Daddy says Mr. Masters has watched out for us over the years in ways that he couldn’t. All I need to know is that I can trust him, and I don’t trust anyone else but my parents. He is the exception, the one person I can go to anytime, anywhere, with anything, and he won’t judge or question me. That makes him family in my mind—and God knows I don’t have enough of that.
“How are you two holding up?” Mr. Masters crouches down in the aisle at the end of our row and studies us both with concern. Stacia stands beside him, her hands fluttering nervously as she straightens the edges of papers in the stack she’s holding.
Mama nods, her face a mask of confidence. “We’re just fine. Thank you, Ben.”
Masters searches my face and he seems to be checking to verify how much of what she’s saying is true. I give him a tiny shrug because I’m really not sure how we are. Maybe he should ask again after we get through this appeal hearing.
“What do you think our chances are?” I ask, keeping my voice soft.
He puts on the same confident expression as Mama and nods. “I think we have a chance, which is what matters most right now.”
Stacia reaches one hand out to squeeze my shoulder. “We’re fighting our hardest for him. We won’t give up.”
“And we’re very grateful for that.” Mama swallows hard, and then all of us look to the front as the door they’ll bring Daddy through opens.
Mr. Masters reaches over and pats Mama’s hand before winking at me. Stacia gives me a nervous half smile before they both head to the front. I know they’re here to support Mama and me as much as Daddy, and I’m grateful. Theirs are the only friendly faces that have ever greeted our family in any courtroom.
Daddy is escorted in and joins the rest of his legal team. He’s less than ten feet in front of me, but I can’t reach him, I can’t touch him. I release Mama’s hand and clench both of mine tight in my lap. I don’t know why seeing him in a courtroom still shakes me in this way. I should be used to it. This is the perfect example of the way we’ve lived all my life. He’s right here in front of me, but still just out of reach.
He’s told me a million times that he would be with us if he could. His wishes can’t overcome the steel and bars that have been placed between us by a broken system. My hopes can’t erase the words that were spoken in a different courtroom by Judge Reamers when I was only six years old.
Those words crushed my world. They haunt my dreams at night. I’ve even looked up the recording online to see if I was remembering it wrong—I’ve watched it more than once. Even so many years later, the words race through my head unbidden every time I sit in any courtroom.
This jury has found you, David Andrew Beckett, guilty of three counts of capital murder. In accordance with the laws of the state of Texas, this court hereby sets as your punishment: death. It is therefore the order of this court for you to be delivered by the Sheriff of Harris County, Texas, to the director of the Polunsky Unit, where you shall be confined pending the carrying out of this sentence.
“Riley?” Mama squeezes my hand hard, and I turn my eyes on her immediately.
“Yes?” I study her face, wondering if she feels the same things I do as we sit here. My own mother is so difficult to read.
She gives me a wavering smile. “If you don’t feel like you can be here, Daddy would underst—”
“No.” I answer louder than I intend and then bite my tongue, actually drawing blood, but I force myself not to wince.
Mama’s back stiffens, but I can’t back down, not about this. During Daddy’s trial, she deliberately kept me out of the courtroom whenever Mr. Masters didn’t believe my presence was necessary to help the case. Since then, I’d missed several of the appeals when I couldn’t convince Mama that Daddy would want me there. Only when I’d gotten my driver’s license had she started to relent and let me choose whether to come to hearings. Even now, though, she still tries to shield me from specific information about Daddy’s trial as much as possible. She refuses to understand that I’m not a six-year-old for her to protect anymore, but I will not let her send me away from his final appeal hearing. Not today.
“Please. I need to be here,” I say.
She relaxes and takes a deep breath before patting my knee with a nod.
I know Mama is worried about how I’ll handle it if this appeal doesn’t go well. Daddy says that things look good this time, but he says that every time. At least with this appeal I don’t feel like I’m going into the hearing blindfolded. This time, Daddy told me about the juror who was convinced by someone that she should vote guilty by a family member. It’s the most promising lead we’ve had in a while, but all the same, I’m afraid I’m being set up to fall. I can almost feel the ground beneath me starting to shake.
Mama sits so straight, her chin held high, but I wish I could know what is in her mind. Her last visit to Polunsky was over three months ago, and lately I wonder if she’s lost hope after all this time. Maybe she’s trying to make it less painful for herself if today doesn’t turn out the way we want it to. Maybe that’s the smart approach, the safe approach.
The bailiff orders us to rise as Judge Howard enters. I remove my sunglasses, sticking them in my purse. I want to be able to see everything that happens clearly. The judge’s black robes float about her and make her seem more like an omen of death than the symbol of justice she should be. When we sit, she almost looks bored as she shuffles through the papers in the stack before her. It infuriates me in a way that I know it shouldn’t, but she has too much power, and I have none. And I hate her for it.
Finally, she stares over her bench at my father. “Mr. Beckett, I have gone through the evidence you’ve submitted to this court several times. And while I agree that a juror’s family members shouldn’t give advice to the juror on rendering a verdict, I do not believe that in this case the advice swayed her decision. That means your evidence isn’t sufficient to warrant the retrial you’ve requested, or even another stay of your sentence.”
My breath catches in my chest as though an enormous weight has just crashed down on me. The room fills with the murmurs and rustling of the crowd watching Daddy’s show. On the other side of the aisle people are cheering. They smile and hug at the thought of my father being killed. The irony is both maddening and heartbreaking. Being accused of killing is what landed him here in the first place. What kind of system is this? What kind of justice repays the killing of innocent women by then killing an innocent man?
The eye-for-an-eye mentality seems like it will always be alive and well here in Texas.
I feel sick and wish everyone else would just leave. My heart thuds painfully inside me like it wants to escape. My head spins as I try not to let my inner turmoil show on my face. If Daddy turns to look at me, I refuse to let that be what he sees.
Judge Howard pats at her curly gray hair before picking up one of the papers in front of her and frowning. “You’ve been convicted of the murders of three young women, Mr. Beckett. And they are particularly gruesome murders. Violent beatings followed by strangulation. Is that correct?”
I hear Daddy’s voice hesitate. “I . . . I’ve maintained my innocence—”
The judge frowns down from her bench at him and interrupts. “Just answer the question, please.”
Daddy responds immediately, but I can hear the slight edge he’s trying to bury deep in his voice. “Yes. The state has convicted me of that crime, Your Honor.”
“Those crimes.” She corrects him, her gaze growing harder.
“Those crimes,” he repeats back.
She glances back down at her papers again. “It says here that you’ve already requested your writ of certiorari?”
My father clears his throat before answering, and my heart aches for him. “Yes, I have, Your Honor.”
“And I’m sure that as a former lawyer, you understand how unlikely it is that the Supreme Court will agree to hear your case?” Judge Howard squints over the bench at Daddy for several seconds until he nods. Then she brings her arm and the paper down onto her bench with a boom that reflects the finality of her dismissal. “Mr. Beckett, you don’t have time left for me to mince words here. Assuming you aren’t one of the lucky few cases chosen, you’ve exhausted your final appeal, and your execution will be carried out as scheduled in four weeks. From what I can see here, you’ve definitely had your due process. I recommend that you and your loved ones prepare yourselves.”
Daddy doesn’t move or flinch. I’m not even certain he is breathing. My eyes don’t seem to be able to blink as I stare at him, trying to absorb the way he looks today, right now, before everything changes.
They’re going to kill him. They are going to kill my father. And there is nothing I can do to stop it. If this happened on the streets instead of in a courthouse, I could call the police. Here and now, I can do nothing but watch in horror. People around me shuffle to their feet, but my world shifts and spins and I think I might be falling until I realize I’m not the one who is moving.
Mama falls off of our bench and crashes onto the ground in front of us. It takes me a full three seconds before I can react.
“Mama!” In—and out—I remind myself to breathe as I check for her pulse. My entire world locks up, not willing to move forward until it knows that I will at least have one parent left.
Then I feel the light but steady thrum of her heartbeat and a shuddering breath forces its way free from my lungs. Leaning in to hug her close, I hear her exhale quietly against my ear. Mr. Masters has come over to us. He says something I can’t make out, and his hands are on my shoulders, pulling me back gently.
All I can hear is my own panicked muttering. “She’s still here. She’s okay. She’s okay.”
Stacia is speaking behind me and I realize she’s calling for an ambulance.
When I look down, I see blood on my shirt and realize Mama hit her head when she fell. I grab the only thing I have in my purse, a workout T-shirt, and hand it to Mr. Masters, who presses it against her head.
Nothing here makes sense. Mama never shows weakness. She never fails and she never falls. This can’t be real. It can’t be happening right now. Not after what the judge just told us. If I squeeze my eyes tight enough, I might wake up from this nightmare.
I have to wake up.
I’m on the floor with my eyes shut tight. I’m clutching my unconscious mother’s hand when I hear Judge Howard dismiss the court. The guards begin taking Daddy away.
“Wait! Wait! My wife fell. Is she okay? Amy!” His voice floats to me from far away and I open my eyes even as tears burn them. Tucking my head low so no one can see, I blink frantically until the traitorous drops fall away and shove my dark sunglasses back onto my face.
“She’ll be okay, Daddy,” I yell out loud enough for him to hear me. “We’ve got her.”
Newspaper reporters crowd around us and start taking pictures. I can’t hide myself from them. Stacia goes out to meet the paramedics. Mr. Masters keeps his head down and pretends the cameras aren’t there. I do the same, but now that Daddy is gone I’ve lost my strength. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop the tears that pour down my cheeks.
One of the bailiffs makes his way through the crowd and crouches next to me. He looks from me to Mama and asks, “Do you need medical assistance?”
I shake my head hard and try to wipe the tears beneath my sunglasses away. “We already called for help.”
His expression is tainted with disdain as he stands up, and I realize he thinks my mother is faking it. I look at the crowd around me, wishing the bailiff would at least make them go away, but he doesn’t, and I’m sure from the look on his face that he won’t.
After all the things I’ve experienced in places of so-called justice in the last eleven years, I would be shocked if he did anything at all. The paramedics come in, and Mr. Masters tugs me back, forcing me to drop Mama’s hand as he pulls me into a tight hug, muttering against my head that everything is going to be okay.
Mama is always so tough and strong. All of my worry has been so consumed by Daddy for my entire life that worrying about Mama feels strange. Wrong.
The tears have stopped, or I can’t feel the heat from them anymore. For the first time ever, I wish this court was even more of a circus. Because then at least the lights would fade, the crowds would leave, and I could slink away into the darkness.
Woosh that gave us some feels. Hope it did for you too! Now don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of books by the ReMade authors, J.R. Johansson, and more! To enter, you need to know that our favorite number is 23. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the green team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!