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?
Blocked 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.
Like "Waking up White" by Debby Irving, reading "Endangered" was not always a comfortable experience for me. It was like being Dorian Gray and looking at the picture a decade or so after it was first painted. (For those who haven't read "The Picture of Dorian Gray", it's like looking in the mirror after a rough night.)
If I got treated the way a lot of young, black men do simply because of the color of my skin I would be indignant too. Heck, I might be downright hostile.
I sympathize with Janae's situation. The advice she had given her son, Malik, to do whatever the police told him to do probably lessened the chance that he would be seriously injured upon arrest. I struggle along with her wondering if that advice actually worked against Malik in getting him caught in the first place (instead of escaping injury by running).
In steps Roger Whitford, an white attorney from the Innocence Project, who offers to take Malik's case. On the one hand, you would think a mother would jump at that chance. On the other hand, Janae is right to question Whitford's motives. He is at least as interested in trying his own theory on justice for young, black men in general as he is in representing Malik in particular. And the high-powered lawyer from the high-powered law firm working with the project as a favor to his boss (and because he is black) takes an interest in Janae as well as the case.
Cush writes very well about potentially sensitive subject matter. Some people will deny the problem. Some readers will be outraged at the defense used in this work of fiction. Using stories to get one's point across is a literary device in use for thousands of years. Hopefully "Endangered" will do the same. I can see this being required reading in English classes around the country.
After reading "Endangered", I know two things:
1) that this book deserves as wide an audience as possible; and
2) that we will be hearing more from Jean Love Cush in the future.
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.
(Disclosure: I received a print copy of "Endangered" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my unbiased review.)