First line: "Before the sound of the sirens... Four boys were hanging out on Fortieth Street."
Malik Williams follows his mom’s lessons to the “t” when police close in on he and his friends hanging out on the street corner one afternoon. His friends flee, but Malik raises his hands and obeys orders only to be man-handled, thrown in the cruiser and hauled off to jail, accused of murder.
While Philadelphia law mandates a teen accused of murder be sent to the adult jail, a bomb-threat at the facility forces the arresting officer to book Malik at the juvenile detention center. This positions Malik perfectly for human rights attorney Roger Whitford’s cause: exposing the criminal justice system’s racism.
Whitford’s plan is to have the African-American teen male declared “endangered” by extending the Endangered Species Act. He believes they are in danger of extinction because of the biases against them. This defense ignites a flurry of reactions and puts Malik and his mother Janae in a national spotlight.
A quick, engaging story, Endangered presents a serious social injustice through an empathetic character’s plight. The language is straightforward and easily accessible for readers from a young adult level up.
The simplification of an issue as complex as this may give doubting readers a window for debate, and a greater challenge would have been making the argument from a less sympathetic character’s circumstances. However, debut novelist Jean Love Cush still manages to drive home the mortifying inequality plaguing the system.
A stark reminder of the human inside the skin, regardless of color, Endangered has the potential to open up discussions that are long overdue.
Endangered is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062316233) from Amistad.