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 can’t 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.
About the Author
J.R. JOHANSSON is the author of the Night Walkers Series and CUT ME FREE. She lives in Utah with two sons, a wonderful husband, three cats, and a hot tub named Valentino.
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By J. R. Johansson
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2016 J. R. Johansson
All rights reserved.
I STEP INTO THE REGISTRATION BUILDING and marvel at how it smells the same every time. The strong aroma of bleach cleanser that somehow never manages to get rid of the lingering undertone of mildew and rot is a hard one to forget.
For over ten years, I've spent every Friday afternoon from three to five p.m. at the Polunsky Unit except for the two weeks in December it took to get my "hardship privileges" approved by the warden. It still seems crazy to me that I had to get the approval from Warden Zonnberg — the director of death row himself — just to visit my own daddy without Mama present. It was a whole lot of hassle to go through when you consider that I was only ten months shy of being legal at the time. But like Mama says: Seventeen is still seventeen no matter what color you paint it. So once Mama's work made it harder for her to attend visits with me, the warden literally declared me a case of hardship in order to approve my visits. I have paperwork and everything. Nothing like putting a label on a girl to make her feel good about herself.
And the stupid teens on reality TV shows think they have daddy issues.
Mama sent me with a letter for Daddy — as she always does. I wonder what it says but don't look. It's enough that the guards thoroughly examine every piece of communication our family shares. Me snooping through their messages too would be as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.
Almost instinctively, I walk toward the desk and begin prepping to pass through the security checkpoint. By the time I step up and sign my name, my shoes and belt are off and my pockets are emptied. As always, I left my purse in the car and only brought my ziplock bag with a paper chess set, my ID, change for the vending machines, my car keys, and Mama's letter — nothing that will raise any trouble. I may not be an honor student, but I am nothing if not a model death row visitor.
Mama should seriously find a bumper sticker that says that about her daughter.
Nancy, the correctional officer behind the desk, smiles when she looks up and sees me signing in. "You're prepped already. You've got to be the speediest girl at the airport, Riley."
I incline my head. "I'm sure I will be should I ever decide I want to go anywhere. You've prepared me well."
"You've never been on a plane?"
"I've never been outside of Texas."
She seems shocked. "Good Lordy, why not?"
I place one hand across my heart and give her a wide grin. "Because I love it so. I just couldn't bear to leave."
"Everybody loves Texas," Nancy says, nodding with a smile, obviously not catching my sarcasm.
I provide the expected response. "Absolutely."
Nancy opens Mama's letter and scans through it. When she's finished she puts it back with my plastic bag and moves them both through the X-ray machine.
I put the pen down on her book, handing over my driver's license for her to inspect like she's done so many times before.
"Still not eighteen yet, huh?" She reaches for the red notebook behind her desk where I know my hardship form is kept. The mound of paperwork I had to fill out to get that form is filed away safely somewhere in the warden's office. I swear the prison system seems to have taken on the sole responsibility for keeping the paper industry in business.
"Nope. I decided to delay becoming legal for as long as humanly possible."
"Mm-hmm." Nancy makes a note in the folder. "Are you guys ready for the hearing?"
"Yep," I say with false bravado before swallowing against the fear that clamps down on my throat any time I think about Daddy's final appeal next week.
"What day is it?" She takes me through the metal detector and does my pat-down.
"It's on Thursday." I've grown used to having conversations with people while they're frisking me, but that doesn't make it any less awkward. The trick is to avoid direct eye contact until they've finished. I stare straight ahead as she runs her hands over my legs.
"Well, good luck then. See you next week, Riley," Nancy says, and I wave as I head to the front desk to get my visitor badge and let the receptionist inspect Mama's letter further.
My body follows the usual routine as if disconnected from my brain. I cross the yard and go through the gate to the administration building. I don't even realize that I've passed the green outer door and both steel security doors before I'm sitting in the visiting area designated for contact visits and waiting for Daddy to come in.
It's quiet in the barely-bigger-than-a-broom-closet room and my mind goes over the few details Daddy had told me about the current appeal. His legal team had uncovered evidence that at least one jury member from his original trial might have been tampered with. This may be our first chance to be granted a retrial in the nearly twelve years my father has been in prison. This appeal actually seems promising, and for the first time in years, I struggle to keep my hope in check.
It's what we've been waiting for all this time — a new chance to prove that Daddy didn't do it.
I keep running the envelope containing Mama's letter through my fingers. I pass it from one hand to the other. I wince as the edge slices a small paper cut into my palm, but the pain helps me keep my focus here in this visitation room. My mind should not be behind bars. It should not be distracted by thoughts of what could be happening right now in a jail cell or by what may happen on Thursday in a judge's courtroom.
Today is just one more visit with my father ... and that alone makes it special.
"Hi, Ri," Daddy says when the officer brings him in. I study my father as I do every week. When I decide he doesn't look any worse this visit than the last, I release a shaky breath. Everyone in Polunsky is in solitary confinement, which is enough to drive a person mad if they weren't already when they came in. That much time alone isn't good for anyone's well-being. He's lost a lot of weight over the years, developing a leaner and harder look. And sometimes he still manages to get bruises he refuses to explain. I've seen enough to suspect they came from a chance altercation with another inmate while being moved around the prison ... or from the guards.
Once his cuffs are released, he hugs me tight and I hug him back — the same way I do every visit. I guess when you're only allowed two hugs from your father per week, you're never too grown up for it.
The officer clears his throat, and Daddy pulls away from me. We walk over to sit down at the table. Once we're seated, the guard closes the door and stands outside. This is what we're allowed. This is what our face-to-face relationship is defined by: a hug at the beginning and the end of each visit. When I leave, the guard will give me the letters Daddy has written to me this week to take home. While I'm here, we must sit on opposite sides of the table. We can hold hands if we want, but we rarely do anymore. Not since I was little. When Mama used to come more frequently, she and Daddy used to hold hands sometimes. It symbolizes their marriage — their romance — to me now. I couldn't take that away from them.
Mama has had to miss visits and hearings too often in the last year and I know they miss seeing each other, but Mama's new job is demanding. She's been the executive assistant to a vice president at an investment firm since last summer. Her boss pays her well and gives her job security as long as she works whenever and wherever it's convenient for him.
After being fired in the past for reasons like your presence is creating an uncomfortable work environment for others or not disclosing pertinent background information, Mama really cares about her job security.
"How is your mother?" Daddy asks first thing, and I smile. Polunsky has aged him, but the sparkle in Daddy's eyes when he sees me never changes.
"She's fine. She said to tell you that she's excited to see you on Thursday."
His smile falters. "Are you both coming to the hearing?"
"Yes." I prepare myself for the argument I know is coming.
"I wish you wouldn't, but you already know that." Daddy sits back in his chair and pushes his hand through his thick salt-and-pepper hair. "Ben can let you know how it goes after —"
"We want to be there. Having your family there to support you is important during your appeals — both to you and to the judge. Mr. Masters even told us that." I shake my head, refusing to budge on this one. Benjamin Masters is Daddy's lawyer, and a longtime family friend. When I was little, I used to think he was my uncle. It wasn't until I was ten that I finally understood that we weren't actually related. He and Daddy were partners in their law firm before Daddy ended up here.
"That's lawyer logic. I know that and so do you." He frowns so deep it seems to create new lines on his face. "I'm not thinking like a lawyer right now. I'm thinking like a father, and I'm just trying to protect my family. I hate seeing the media circle you and your mother like a pack of coyotes around fresh meat. You did nothing to bring this on yourself."
"Neither did you, Daddy." I reach out and give his hand a firm squeeze. "We're in this with you by choice. Besides, I'd hate it if I wasn't there to hear the good news."
He returns a weak version of my smile and I decide to change the subject. Opening my plastic bag, I pass Daddy the letter from Mama before pulling out the paper chess set and putting the pieces in place.
"Now, on to the really important stuff," I say. "I learned a new strategy on YouTube this week that's going to blow your mind."
Daddy chuckles before cracking his knuckles and leaning forward with a grin. "As the things you tell me you find on the Internet usually do."CHAPTER 2
BY TUESDAY, I'VE CLEANED my room five times in an effort to keep my mind off Daddy's upcoming hearing. For the first time I can remember, I almost wish I had school in the summer just so I would have something to distract myself. It's a momentary and fleeting wish, since most of the time I would give my left kidney to not have to go to that hellish place where everyone — students and faculty alike — watches me like I might morph into a killer at any moment.
Still, saying that I'm in serious need of a diversion is a definite understatement.
I slump down on the couch with my somewhat maimed copy of The Count of Monte Cristo to read for the billionth time. The whole house is dim and I wish I knew when Mama would be home. Rubbing my fingertips against my eyelids, I let the tension from the week seep down into my legs and out through my feet.
I flip open the book, and end up dropping it after only a few pages. I love the story, that isn't the problem. The house is too quiet around me. It's peaceful, but sometimes it feels more like our home is wrapped up in a blanket of apprehension. It's waiting, just like I am. Waiting for the next visitation day, waiting for the next trial date, waiting to read the next letter — or, like right now, waiting for the next appeal hearing in two days.
That's all we do in my family. Wait.
My nerves get the better of me in the silence. They're like red ants swarming, creeping in droves under my skin. I can almost feel their tiny feet crawling, but I can't stop them. I cringe, knowing I'm helpless to prevent the stings from coming at any moment.
I rub my hands along my arms, trying to force away the thoughts, the sensation. Wishing I had something — anything — to do. Then I stop and head toward the stairs.
Right now, I can think of one thing I don't have to wait for.
The moment I get to my room, I grab the three remaining unread letters from this week's stack, slip out the one marked May 31, and flop on my bed as I lift the flap. Daddy never bothers to seal these. We learned a long time ago that the guards would open and read every letter he sends home with us anyway, so he doesn't try to prevent it. Pulling the paper out, I hold it carefully as I read.
Happy Tuesday, sweetheart! Hope you're having a good day. I can't believe how fast time seems to move these days. It's always so good to see you. I can't believe you'll be eighteen soon. It feels wrong that my own daughter is growing up so much without me. Every time I see you, it seems you look older. Don't grow up too fast, Ri. I'm still holding out hope that I might somehow find a way to be back at home with you before you move out and on with your own life.
All my love,
I read it again, smiling to myself as I remember my last visit. Our chess match this week had been very close. I'd nearly won — something I hadn't done since I turned nine and realized he was letting me win. I had demanded that he start playing for real, and he'd dominated me ever since.
But I'm learning. I'm getting better with every match and he knows it.
I walk over to my closet. The bottom is filled with neatly stacked shoeboxes. The older letters are packed up and moved into the attic on a regular basis to make room for new ones. I've never tried to count how many boxes I've piled up over the years, but there are twenty-two in my closet right now. The one on top is the only one not held closed with a large rubber band. I slip the newest letter into it and caress the tops of a few envelopes before putting the lid back on and replacing the box. Mama helped me set up this system way back when Daddy was still on trial. He'd started sending home letters every time we visited him — one letter for every day of the week except visitation day.
Mama and I both expected him to stop or slow down at some point, but he never did. The shoebox stacks are reaching the point where they're starting to interfere with my hanging clothes again. Knowing I'll have to move some boxes up to the attic soon forms a ball of sadness in the bottom of my stomach.
I always dread doing that. The boxes hold pieces of Daddy — and Polunsky has already stolen so much of him away. I like keeping the letters close. I wish I could fill my whole room with them, but Mama won't let me.
I used to think Mama might be jealous that he doesn't send her a letter for every day of the week, but I don't dare ask in case it might hurt her to talk about that. I know she misses him as much as I do, and we've all had enough pain.
A bang shatters my thoughts as I hear the door downstairs close and then Mama's voice. "Riley, are you home?"
"Yep!" I respond as I close my closet.
"Can you come help with groceries, please?"
"Yes, ma'am," I murmur as I head for the stairs. I leave my thoughts where I wish I could stay, locked up tight in the closet full of Daddy's letters.
* * *
Mama nudges my hands with a bowl of spaghetti until I blink and take it. When I look up at her, it's clear she's been speaking and I haven't been paying attention.
"Sorry," I say, as I carry the bowl to the table and grab the glasses to fill with milk.
"Your mind sure is busy." She waits until I meet her worried eyes before continuing. "Was your day okay?"
"Yeah, it was fine."
"Are you bored? Are you sure quitting your job was the best plan?" Her voice holds a tone that clearly says she thinks I should've stayed, but we've been over that already.
I level my gaze at her. "I'm sure that working in a place like that wasn't worth the money."
She watches me. I turn and pour the second glass of milk before she speaks again. "I know it was hard —"
"It wasn't hard, Mama." I put the glass down on the table with a loud clink and barely notice when a splash of milk sloshes over the top. "The second Carly found out about Daddy, she told everyone. They all started avoiding me, and then someone left those threats in my cubby and on my car."
"This isn't the first time we've seen struggle, Riley." Mama wipes up the mess with a napkin and shakes her head.
"They said I should die like the girls in Daddy's case." The words spill out like the milk before I can stop them.
Mama gives me a sharp glance and I shut my mouth, fuming silently and fighting to calm down. It's hard enough to cope with our situation, but the worst part is when she speaks to me like I'm not strong. When she implies that I'm weak after I spend every day fighting to prove to myself and everyone else that I'm tough enough to face my situation, my life. The pain of her doubting me hurts worse than it would from anyone else.
Excerpted from The Row by J. R. Johansson. Copyright © 2016 J. R. Johansson. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
THE ROW BY J.R. JOHANSSON is told in the perspective of Riley, the child of a serial killer on death row, or is he serial killer ? Riley , who was six when her father was arrested , tried and convicted of being a serial killer, is now seventeen & her father is one month away from being executed for the brutal murders of women. Riley up to this point has always stood by her father,visiting him weekly in prison & determined to prove his innocence. When the last appeal has been denied Riley's father tells her that he did commit the murders. Riley, shaken by the confession sets out to prove he's lying about that so he can make his punishment for the murders easier on her. The story is told in the perspective of the child of a serial killer. Its a different perspective. Usually its told by the killer or the police. Here we see the child's point of view. How people treat her like a serial killer herself, whether at work or in the neighborhood. The more you get into the book the more you want to see Riley's dad found innocent. It keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting to know more. Its then ending of the book that really blew me out of the water. I recieved this book free from goodreads in exchange for an honest review.
As some of you know, I enjoy a good mystery thriller... which is why I requested this bad boy from NetGalley as soon as I saw it was available. And boy, am I glad I did! This standalone novel delivered on so many levels, and I was blown away by just how good it really was. Imagine if someone you loved was on death row for a crime they did not commit. What would you do? How would you feel? This story had me asking myself these exact questions. I really couldn't contemplate what that would be like, and it was so interesting to see how Riley handled this situation. Especially when her father ends up confessing to the crimes. What then? Her whole world is shattered, that's what. The emotion in this novel just bled straight through the pages. Although the book is categorized as Young Adult, I felt that it was less YA'ish than the usual YA novels I read. Yes, our main character is 17 years old, but she seemed much older to me. More mature, I guess you could say. And since lately I've felt as if I'm getting burnt out on YA, that's one of the things I loved about the book. "How many times can you lie to someone you love before everything you share becomes the lie?" One thing that bothered me was the relationship between Riley and Jordan. It seemed a bit cliche to me. Death row inmate's daughter falls for the son of the detective who put her Daddy away? I don't know. It just didn't seem to work for me, even though I really did like Jordan's character. He was such a sweetheart and never judged Riley for the things her father had been accused of. But... I feel like I'd have enjoyed it more had they remained good friends, if that. On to the ending... Holy moly, what a turn of events! With the flip of each page I was caught up in trying to figure this whole thing out, and guess what? I didn't. I never could figure it out. And that right there makes for a great mystery. *I was provided an eARC of this book by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Amazing story with an amazing ending. Never saw it coming.
Thanks to YA Bound Book Tours and Netgalley for letting me read an e-galley of this book. I have been a huge fan of this author since I first read Insomnia. I have yet to be disappointed by any of her books, and this one totally held up that trend. I don't read a lot of this kind of contemporary YA, but it was such a good read. Riley's family is kind of messed up, with her father on death row, her mother has to work a lot of hours to keep the family going. Riley doesn't have any friends either. The kids either don't want to be friends with her because her father is a convicted murderer on death row, or their parents won't let them be friends with her. Something Riley does to try to feel normal is to drive to malls far enough away from her home that people don't know who she is at first sight. This first time she runs into a boy and his little brother in a little restaurant in the mall. The boy's name is Jordan. He's cute, and he seems to be very friendly, and wants to get to know Riley better. But Riley is unsure how much to keep in touch with him, as she doesn't want him to find out who she is, or who her father is, because then she knows he won't want to be friends anymore. Her father loses his last chance for an appeal, which means he will be put to death in less than month. When Riley goes to see him for her weekly visit, he tells her that he is actually guilty. This throws Riley's whole world out of whack. She calls Jordan to tell him, for some reason feeling like she can only talk to him about this. And that's when she finds out that Jordan is connected to her and her father. You see he is the son of the police officer who put her dad away. But Jordan wants to help Riley figure out the truth. When her father tells her that he was only saying it to make it easier when he was executed, now she doesn't know what to believe. He tells her it was a lie when there is a murder that seems to be just like the ones he was accused of. Now there is a chance he might be able to get out of jail, if they can prove that this new murder is the same as the ones before, then it means he would not be guilty, just as he had always claimed. However, looking into past murders, as well as this new one, will put Riley, and Jordan, in danger. Not only danger, but also Riley will learn things about both of her parents that will make her think about her whole life not being what she'd always thought it was. Her parents not being the people she had always looked up to. I really liked the characters. Like Riley, I was intent on having to know just whether her father was really guilty or not. With all the reality tv lately about other murder cases getting new evidence and finding people innocent, this will be something that connects to those who find that interesting. The ending of the book definitely was suspenseful, and hard to put down. I would totally love to see this as a movie. Another great story from Johansson.
A Father on Death Row A Daughter Determined to Prove his Innocence The Son of the Cop who arrested the Father A Workaholic Mother And the Biggest Question of All: Who is the REAL Murderer? As soon as I read the synopsis for The Row, I knew I HAD to read it. It sounded like a real page turner, and I LOVED the very sound of it. Short and Sweet: A GREAT thriller, with a great plot, and the ever present who-dunnit element that could been a whole lot better. Long Version?: I loved the characters - Riley's unflinching loyalty and strength even when her father was going to be killed by the state, I LOVED Jordan, his analytical mind and most of all how he was with his kid brother, Matthew. I even loved the mother, who was in so much pain I just wanted to reach in and hug her. Another thing I really liked was that the author had the power to make me believe in the dad's innocence, then made him look guilty and back and forth, which is EXACTLY what good thrillers should let you do - GUESS and not be predictable. A few things that could have been better, to make this a proper experience could have been: 1) ACTUAL GRUESOME details about the case. Rather than giving us a censored version of 'violent' murders, they could have given us MORE EVERYTHING. More details, how far apart the murders were, just SOMETHING other than their names and that they were murdered. It didn't feel very a) real or b) brutal to me, and that ruined the effect a bit. 2) Another thing I would have LOVED was to see some old articles, some police transcripts or evidence or interviews with the convicted that would help me get a more holistic view of the case in general, over what was slowly becoming a Riley (The Daughter) Monologue. All in all, a book that could have been better, but a GREAT read still the same.
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** 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. Read the rest of my review on my blog, The Eater of Books! - eaterofbooks DOT blogspot DOT com :)