Category: Book Reviews


Review: Endangered by Jean Love Cush

Posted 14 July, 2014 by Heather in Book Reviews, Fiction / 5 Comments

I received this book for free from the publisher / TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Endangered by Jean Love CushEndangered by Jean Love Cush
Published by Amistad on July 1, 2014
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Source: the publisher / TLC Book Tours

Goodreads | Amazon

To save her son from a legal system bent on sending African American men to jail, a young mother agrees to an unprecedented, controversial defense offered up from a team of crack lawyers, in this debut novel that speaks to race, class, and justice in America.

Janae Williams, a never-missed-a-day-of-work single mother, has devoted her whole life to properly raising her son. From the time Malik could walk, Janae taught him that the best way to stay alive and out of trouble with the law was to cooperate. Terrified for his safety, she warned him to "raise your hands high, keep your mouth shut, and do whatever they say" if stopped by the police. But when a wave of murders hits Philadelphia and fifteen-year-old Malik is arrested, Janae's terror is compounded by guilt and doubt: Would Malik be in jail if he had run?

Block at every turn from seeing her son, Janae is also unable to afford adequate legal representation. In steps the well-meaning Roger Whitford, a lawyer who wants to use Malik's case to upend the entire criminal justice system. Janae simply wants her son free, but Roger, with the help of an ambitious private attorney, is determined to expose the system's hostility toward black boys.

Offering a startling and unprecedented defense, the lawyers spark a national firestorm of debate over race, prison, and politics. As Janae battles to save her son, she begins to discover that she is also fighting for her own survival and that of the future of her community.

(from the inside flap)

The subject of Jean Love Cush’s novel is one that is close to my heart. Not only are the state of our prison system and our criminal justice system’s inherent racial bias topics that I am very passionate about, but there are also many, many people whom I care about who have to worry about this on a daily basis. This is not okay.

The gist of the story in Endangered is this: Malik is a fifteen-year-old black boy living in Philadelphia. Twenty-eight murders have been committed in Philly in the twenty days since the new year started. When Malik’s friend, Troy, becomes murder victim number twenty-nine, an anonymous call to police names Malik as the murderer. When the police show up on the street corner where Malik is hanging with some of his other friends, Malik’s friends run while Malik does exactly as his mother has told him–he doesn’t resist, he doesn’t say anything, and he allows the police to rough him up, arrest him, and take him to the local detention center. They charge Malik with First-Degree Murder, with no further investigation.

What Malik and his mother failed to understand is that according to Pennsylvania law, minors charged with murder are automatically tried as adults. If convicted, Malik could spend the rest of his life in an adult prison, where he will surely be turned into the hardened criminal that he currently is not.

Enter Roger Whitford, head of the Center for the Protection of Human Rights (CPHR), who wants to take on Malik’s case as part of a larger effort to stop the criminal justice system from unfairly arresting and imprisoning black boys at a higher rate than any other racial group. Roger is suggesting the Endangered Species Act be expanded to include the protection of black boys–a group that he claims is in danger of extinction because of the inherent racial bias in our criminal justice system.

Extinction is a strong word, and it’s exactly what I mean. Those successful black men you are talking about are a drop in the bucket compared to the larger group as a whole. Already thirteen percent of all black males eighteen years old and older have lost their right to vote because they have been tried and convicted of a felony. That means that they can never be fully participating citizens of our society ever again. That number is huge. We know from studies conducted at Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia universities that education–or, more to the point, lack of education–is directly linked to crime. The less education you have the more likely you are to be involved in crime. If you take a look at the statistics again, in almost every major metropolitan area in this country–L.A., here in New York, in Detroit, in Chicago–over sixty percent of black boys drop out of school, and the ones who stay are disproportionately placed in special education, or they are suspended, or even expelled. It’s not a question of if those kids will end up in the criminal justice system, it’s a question of when. And here’s the proof: already, right now, one-third, or roughly thirty-three percent of all black males between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four are either awaiting trial, in prison, or on probation or parole. And if the criminal justice system doesn’t get them, homicide will. I can sit here and rattle off countless more statistics that would paint a grim picture of black boys’ future…the point being, their lives are truly and literally endangered.

Whitford’s point is that if there are laws in this country to protect endangered animal and plant species, why are there not laws in this country to protect endangered groups of human beings? And of course, by comparing black boys to plants and animals, Whitford is ensuring that this problem with our criminal justice system gains the attention in the news that it deserves.

As a white, middle-class mother of white, middle-class children, this is something that I never have to worry about. I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for black mothers and fathers across the country to live in fear for their children’s safety when it comes to our criminal justice system. So many people I care about have to deal with this on a daily basis–what must it be like to have to teach your children about systemic racism? What must it be like to have to tell your children that they are in more danger of being beaten, arrested, and imprisoned, just because of the color of their skin? It breaks my heart.

There are a lot of eye-opening statistics in Endangered, but the novel also has a good storyline. Jean Love Cush does a great job of making our criminal justice system’s inherent racial bias feel more personal through Janae and Malik’s story. I was angry and heart-broken from the first chapter.

Even if you are on the other side of this debate, the statistics can’t be ignored. I highly recommend this book to everyone. Read it. Have your eyes opened.

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