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Efrem Sigel
Author
Juror Number 2: The Story of a Murder, the Agony of a Neighborhood
Efrem Sigel, author
Compulsively readable, “Juror Number 2” is a true crime story and societal expose that takes the reader into the housing projects, police precincts and schools in East Harlem to portray in unvarnished detail the conditions that lead young people to be involved in gangs and crime. As the Preface explains, “This is a story about a brutal and senseless murder in East Harlem, New York, about the ensuing trial——in which I served as a juror—and about my subsequent search for why. Why the young men caught up in the trial were cutting school, joining gangs, selling drugs, getting arrested and spending time in jail. And how the failures of the schools, the public housing projects and the criminal justice system contributed to these outcomes.” The author highlights a handful of outstanding schools among many that are failing, as well as nonprofits doing the heroic work of helping formerly incarcerated young men abandon crime and lead productive lives.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Idea: Juror Number 2 offers an insightful look at the weaknesses of America's public institutions and the role communities play in shaping individual lives. This is a strong and compelling critique of the system through the window of a single crime.

Prose/Style: Sigel makes very insightful points through strong, clear writing and persuasive arguments about how lasting social change can be accomplished.

Originality: Through his own personal experience of participating in a trial, Sigel offers the reader an inside view of what it's actually like to be a juror. This unique perspective provides the opportunity for sincere reflection on the experience and all the players.

Character Development: Sigel's efforts to go beyond just participating in the trial, but to also understand the ultimate motivations and culture that frame the crime, are both sincere and commendable. The witnesses as characters come alive and demand the reader's empathy.

Date Submitted: October 29, 2020

Reviews
Novelist Sigel (The Kermanshah Transfer) turns his sharp eye for detail to a beautifully written hybrid of true crime and memoir. After serving as a juror on a 2017 Manhattan murder trial, The People v. Abraham Cucuta, Sigel was moved to examine the societal ills that cause underprivileged youth in New York City to turn to selling drugs and joining gangs. He soon learned about decaying public housing projects, poorly run schools, and a broken criminal justice system, all of which fail to equip the children of poor families to compete in higher education or in the workplace. The only legacy these institutions bestow, he found, is generational poverty.

Sigel’s incisive reporting examines sadly common situations—such as children growing up in impoverished single-parent (often mother-led) households or relegated to foster care because their parents are incarcerated or found “unfit”—that provide a fertile breeding ground for gangs, violence, and ruined lives. The news is not all bad. Sigel ably profiles formerly incarcerated individuals who turn their lives around and then return to their old neighborhoods in an attempt to dissuade younger men from getting caught up in the losing game of guns, crime, and jail. One of these men, Omar Jackson, founded SAVE (Stand Against Violence East Harlem), which counsels youth to de-escalate precarious situations by finding ways to “quash the beef.”

Sigel’s gift for choosing evocative details immediately captivates readers. One of his fellow jurors “works nights at the Penn Station McDonalds and arrives pasty-faced and sleep-deprived.” When they’re shown photos of the shooting’s aftermath, “it looks as if most of the contents of a can of red paint had spilled onto the cement.” He adeptly recounts the events of the murder, making clear the gravity of the crime without resorting to sensationalism. Rather than dissect details from a lofty perch, Sigel shows empathy to everyone and sincerely examines his own privilege. Any reader will relish Sigel’s gripping and enlightening work.

Takeaway: True crime buffs and fans of memoirs will be enthralled by Sigel’s irresistible mix of clear reporting, empathy, and thoughtful examination of the link between poverty and violence.

Great for fans of Ann Rule, M. William Phelps, Gregg Olsen.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations:
Editing: A+
Marketing copy: A+

publisher's website, amazon.com

“Such an interesting and well-written look into a juror’s observance of a trial, the retelling of the trial and a juror so moved by what happened that he needed to know more and do more. It was super enlightening and a timely read.” Caroline Craig David, NetGalley reviewer, Instagram book blogger

“Compelling. The story would be interesting solely on the basis of the trial as recounted from the perspective of the juror. Add to that the compulsion to then explore how and why society may have contributed to the creation of criminality and the book reaches a new level. Wonderfully written.” Louise Gray, NetGalley reviewer

“Juror Number 2 is two books in one, nicely woven together magnifying the impact of each.  First it is a fast moving drama as Sigel relates the intrigue of a murder trial. The lucky reader is then swept into the organizations and personalities that succeed and fail as they attempt to save at least some of the youth drawn, pushed, pulled into the world of drugs.  The book is at first exciting; then informative, thought provoking, and sobering.”  Ralph Lawrence, Highlands Ranch, CO

“Efrem Sigel has written a compelling book, fascinating to read, with a compassionate, realistic and optimistic assessment of what could be done if we had the will to uplevel our society.” Evan Harrel, chief operating officer, Center for Compassionate Leadership.

“Finally started reading ‘Juror Number 2’ this afternoon. And finished reading ‘Juror Number 2’ this afternoon, couldn’t put it down. ‘Riveting’ is the appropriate adjective. And I was in awe of the investigative reporting you did after the trial, especially Chapter 11 on the schools. Thanks for the pleasure.”  Phil Pechukas, former chairman, Chemistry Dept., Columbia University

“Bravo. Excellent book. The story of the trial was fascinating. Your sympathetic exploration of what was behind these sad and destructive lives was touching. I particularly liked your discussion of the different educational systems in East Harlem—those providing students with real opportunities and those providing none. What an undertaking! What a masterful job!” Irene B, retired professor, New York City

“Your writing so effectively captured the immersion and emotion of being on a big trial. Thanks for creating such vivid pictures. I loved the scenes of you in the housing projects. Your tour of the neighborhood schools was so informative. And your interactions with the cops and lawyers put such a light on their work. Your book is a perfect fit for this moment of uprising about the inequality in this country.” Leo Corbett, New York City

“ ‘Juror Number 2’ is a remarkable book. I tried not to read it late at night as I couldn’t put it down. The description of the neighborhood, relationships, depressing life experiences of these boys/men is truly compelling. I think the book should be required reading for our public officials. Really a great read—congratulations!” Judith Kunreuther, attorney, New York City

“I’m not prone to superlatives, but ‘Juror Number 2’ is FANTASTIC! I read it in one day simply because I couldn’t put it down. And afterward, I regretted that I finished it and was left with a taste and yearning for more. It’s written like a detective story of the best kind and I find your genuine care and diligent research compelling and inspiring. Thank you for writing this book. I have a lot of respect and admiration for you for taking this on. BRAVO!”
Ofra Bloch, New York City, clinical social worker/therapist; writer and director of the acclaimed indie film, “Afterward.”

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