Publisher: Amistad, July 1, 2014
Endangered is a novel whose main idea is being researched and debated right now in areas around our country. The facts of the situation are startling: we are losing young African-American males to prison, drugs and death in record numbers. It’s been going on for a long time, but people are beginning to take a serious look and searching for viable solutions. A possible fix is suggested in this novel. The only catch is this new solution involves overhauling the juvenile justice system, from police officers to judges and juries.
Here’s the story:
Janae Williams and her son Malik live in the slums of Philadelphia. Janae has been diligent in raising Malik by herself, but, now that he is fifteen, his peer group has a lot more influence over him.
One day Malik and his friends were hanging out on the corner when the police swooped in. Everyone ran but Malik. His mother had taught him, whenever confronted by the police, to raise his hands and cooperate. Janae thought it was the best way to keep him alive. She never thought they’d arrest him for murder. In spite of Janae’s careful parenting, her son was locked up and scheduled to be tried as an adult for an act Janae knew he was incapable of committing.
Janae is employed as a cashier in a hospital cafeteria. There is no way she can afford a private attorney. She has no choice but to depend on the Public Defeder to help her son. The overworked PD has less than a minute to talk to Janae and is unable to even allow her to see her son.
Enter Roger Whitford, an attorney whose career has revolved around human rights issues. Roger is on a mission to use Malik Williams’ case to prove his belief that young black males are an endangered species and should be protected in the same way we protect endangered animals.
Roger’s theory inflames everyone, starting with Malik and Janae. They don’t like being compared to animals. The scoffing doesn’t bother Roger whose long career has been spent fighting all sorts of impossible ideas and legal challenges. He persuades Janae to “hire” him to represent Malik. Hiring Roger is chancy, but its free. Janae goes for it, and so does Malik.
Roger persuades his best friend, a partner at a big-time corporate law firm, to free up one of his top associates to help him on the case. Calvin, who is one of the survivors of the Philadelphia slums, is reluctant at first. Calvin was raised by his Grandmother Pearl who taught him to do what is right and to help his community. Calvin has a sharp legal mind and pushes himself hard, so he’s an excellent addition to the team.
I really liked this book on a couple of different planes. First, I love underdog stories where the odds are stacked against the innocent/good guys and somehow, through heroic efforts, they win. I also like stories that make me think and then do a little research, and then talk to everybody I know about the issues.
I particularly like anything to do with the legal system, whether it’s a movie, a John Grisham tale, a memoir by one of the supreme court justices, or a Law and Order show (the original ones now only seen on cable TV). In Endangered the legal intricacies are especially interesting right from the beginning when Roger attempts to try the case in Juvenile Court rather than in adult court.
There were a few times when the story seemed to slow down, primarily, I felt, because the author added lots of details to the characters and the settings. It wasn’t a biggie – mostly my impatience.
As a mother, I strongly identified with Janae. She was a good character. Roger, also, was a good solid character. He was a little quirky, but in a good way. He knew what he wanted to accomplish and he knew he couldn’t change the system overnight. He was patient for the most part.
I got the message of the story loud and clear: As human beings, young black males are valuable and should be treated as such. They don’t need to be thrown into prison at age 14 or 15 where they learn to be professional criminals. Let’s value them and rehabilitate them.
Abour the author:
Believe it or not, this is Jean Love Cush’s debut novel. I didn’t check her bio before reading the book, bur I had a hunch she was a practicing attorney. I was right. “A native of Philadelphia, Jean Love Cush worked for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office directly out of law school before spending three years as a family law attorney helping low-income women escape domestic-abuse situations. After moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, she hosted a weekly radio show called A View from Summit, where she covered such topics as public safety, urban violence, and inner-city education. Cush now lives in Illinois with her husband and two children.”
I highly recommend Endangered. I believe legal thriller readers will really enjoy it.