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The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives Hardcover – October 17, 2017
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A School Library Journal Best Books of 2017!
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One of The New York City Public Library's Notable 50 Best Books for Teens!
A Kirkus Best Book of 2017
A Chicago Public Library's Best Book of 2017
"The text shifts from straightforward reporting to lyrical meditations, never veering into oversentimentality or simple platitudes. Readers are bound to come away with deep empathy for both Sasha and Richard. VERDICT Slater artfully unfolds a complex and layered tale about two teens whose lives intersect with painful consequences. This work will spark discussions about identity, community, and what it means to achieve justice." ―School Library Journal starred review
"With a journalist's eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness." ―Kirkus starred review
"Using details gleaned from interviews, social media, surveillance video, public records, and other sources, Slater skillfully conveys the complexities of both young people’s lives and the courage and compassion of their families, friends, and advocates, while exploring the challenges and moral ambiguities of the criminal justice system. This painful story illuminates, cautions, and inspires." ―Publishers Weekly starred review
"It is likely that this account will spark conversations, debates, and contemplation, perhaps leading readers to define for themselves what justice means."―VOYA
"[A] multi-layered lesson on the healing power of humanity." ―Shelf Awareness starred review
About the Author
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But instead of falling into tired old true-crime tropes, award-winning journalist Dashka Slater has constructed a deeper narrative that questions binary notions not only of gender, but of other culturally resonant binaries as well – of victim and perpetrator, black and white, good and evil.
Slater spent three years researching this story. She pored over records. She got to know dozens of people who opened up and trusted her with their perspectives. Aiding her mission was the raw beauty of her central characters. Sasha’s parents are models of compassion, empathy and open-mindedness. Richard, the teenager who set fire to Sasha’s skirt, is an otherwise sweet and well-meaning boy who grew up under conditions of extreme adversity. His mother, just 14 when Richard was born, is a loving and caring woman who reaches out to Sasha’s family, tearfully hugging them and apologizing in the courtroom hallway.
Rather than choosing sides in this urban tragedy, Slater shows a deft ability to explore and give equal weight to disparate realities. Through her own disciplined modeling of empathetic balance, Slater masterfully challenges our notions of moral right and wrong. As we ride along with her on The 57 Bus, we ultimately have no choice but to acknowledge the enormous power of the social environment in shaping perspectives and behaviors that at first glance might appear freely chosen.
If there are bad guys in this narrative, they are the larger forces within these social structures: Prosecutors who - locked into a rigid system of winners and losers - blithely try juveniles in adult courts even when the victim’s family and groups like the Transgender Law Center object. Hate crime laws that are enforced in a racially biased manner. Social media trolls who rev up inter-group animosities. Hack defense attorneys who blunder along with little regard for their clients’ human sensibilities.
One might not anticipate that a story about a gender-nonconforming teenager being set on fire would be uplifting. But by the time we shut the cover of The 57 Bus, we feel not just sadness but also a cautious optimism borne of witnessing the powerful human connections that literally sprang from the ashes of tragedy.
Slater’s well-researched book starts with two sections fully describing both teens’ upbringing, then moves on to the crime, and finally, the legal decisions. The reader gets to know each youth in regards to their home life, education, and outlook on their futures. Sasha’s story at times focuses on the transition from ‘Luke’ to ‘Sasha,’ and helping the reader understand about gender, sex, sexuality, and romantic terms. It’s a wealth of knowledge that allows for a deeper understanding of the crime and its affect on the greater community.
Richard is described as a bit of a jokester and a follower. But a young man who can be caring and loyal to family. A fight before his sophomore year had sent him away to juvenile detention, but on his return to public high school, he reached out to a counselor for help to graduate.
The author provides frank discussion points on juvenile crime, restorative justice, and hate crimes. This highlighted crime is emblematic of so many issues that are plaguing the LGBTQ community as well as young African-American males. Slater does a good job of framing both issues and the pacing could not have been better. The integration of statistics and researched material with the crime’s narrative was perfect.
I will make sure that we have this book in my school’s library.
I, so very much, hope the best to both of these families. And I hope we keep moving the legal system to a new place. I hope this writer keeps writing.
Top international reviews
Richard and Sasha both grew up in Oakland, California, but their lives were very different. Yes, Sasha is agender, but their middle class upbringing and free-thinking school were incredibly supportive of them. Sasha seems exceedingly grounded, is very intelligent and has two parents who have been behind them all the way. Being agender is not easy, but until that moment on the bus, it seems as if life threw very few challenges their way. (I’m not saying this is entirely correct, but that’s the impression the book gives. Sasha’s life is near perfect, they have wonderful friends and they love school and learning. Everything is going their way.)
Richard’s life is quite the contrast and full of challenges. He is shown to be a good kid, who likes to joke and laugh, but who struggles with the school environment and hasn’t always been lucky in his choices or treatment. His mother clearly loves him and wants him to do well, but not even she can protect him from making foolish choices or the realities of a racially biased system.
To be honest this book is less about the fire, or even about Sasha and Richard, than it is about the injustices of the courts, the unfair treatment of young black males, the disparity in the opportunities within their communities, and the struggles their parents went through. It works and has a lot to say about all of that, and plenty about gender and the way the binary system needs to change, but I do wish Sasha and Richard had both had more of a voice in the book. I can see why they didn’t – I doubt the author would have been allowed to talk to Richard – but I miss their input.
Overall, though, this is an absorbing, thought-provoking read that passed by very swiftly. The short chapters give a sense of urgency that made me keep reading, wanting to see how everything would unfold. It’s sensitive to those involved, while still managing to question just how it came to the point it did. A well-written reminder that there’s more than one side to any story and it’s important to seek them out.
(Review copy provided by the publisher via Amazon Vine.)
And I would include the UK in that though this book is about what happened in Oakland Calif. USA.
Two young people are on the same bus, 57, travelling from different High Schools to their different homes. For some reason, one of them, Richard, decides to do a really stupid and mindless act. He sets fire to the skirt of a fellow passenger.
That is Sacha who is agender, Identifying as neither male nor female but agender or genderqueer. And uses pronouns not the old standard, his or her.
Sacha who is incredibly intelligent and also diagnosed with Aspergers, has always been a very individual and strong minded person. Has good friendships and great parents.
Sacha has a best friend, Andrew who is transgender.
They are mutually supportive.
Sacha wants to wear a skirt. Sacha wears a skirt and a young teen, Richard, who comes from a very different background sets it on fire while Sacha falls asleep on the 57 bus.
This is an amazing book for many reasons.
I like the writing. Nothing is wasted, no unnecessary words or padding and so much information, the book bursts with explaining in easy to understand terms not only the new gender concepts but also explaining the harsh criminal justice system of Calif. USA.
I am not going to say ours in the UK is any better. But theirs is terrifyingly harsh.
Especially if you are African American.
Richard is sixteen when he sets fire to Sacha’s skirt. He has already had a troubled background but comes across as an ok person, though. But what he did was not ok.
He didn’t do it as a hate Crime though it was deemed as such, but then again he spoke of people taking things too far. Did he mean the clothes?
In here I learned so much, and it has made my heart ache.
We need to change so much, the criminal systems and the attitudes to people who do not fit conveniently into a small box description.
Sasha had Asperger’s, a gift for maths, physics and linguistics, two loving parents and equally loving friends who supported them when they revealed that they were agender, gray-cupiosexual and quiromantic. They attended one of the best schools in the city and had a glittering academic future in front of them.
Richard came from a poorer background, living with his mum (who had him when she was only 15), stepdad and two cousins (who moved in with them when their mum was murdered). He attended an okay high school where his grades weren’t great and he was in and out of trouble, including serving a year in juvie.
Ordinarily Sash and Richard would never met. But on 4th November 2013, they were each on the number 57 bus and Richard – in what he said was a prank gone wrong – set fire to Sasha’s skirt, leaving them with serious burns and changing both their and Richard’s lives forever.
Dashka Slater’s non-fiction YA is an astounding piece of writing that displays great empathy to both Sasha and Richard and their families without flinching from the seriousness of what happened and giving context to their lives up to and after the attack while explaining concepts of sexuality and gender in a helpful and easy to understand way. This is one of my favourite books of 2018 and I will definitely check out Slater’s other work.
Slater is never less than completely respectful to each of Sasha and Richard and to their stories and by doing so, she fully brings out what a tragedy this was for each of them. It would be remarkably easy to vilify Richard for what he did but Slater gives him context while also revealing (without editorialising) how stacked the justice system is against African Americans as she reveals the experiences and tragedies of both him and his friends.
I really enjoyed how Slater reveals Sasha’s journey to realise their gender and sexual preferences and there’s a really good guide in this book to the different terms used within the LGBTQ+ community and what they mean. Some of my favourite parts of the book are the scenes where Slater reveals Sasha’s relationship with their friends and their discussions and support for each other in their respective journeys and realisations.
Slater’s account of the event itself is unsentimental, which makes it even more horrifying. What makes the book outstanding though is how she recounts the aftermath and for me, the account of Richard’s experience in the justice system and his attempt to make amends is incredibly moving and I was genuinely in tears towards the end of it. This isn’t to say that she tries to make what happened sound okay or that Richard was a victim of circumstance – indeed she emphasises how this was a conscious decision, albeit one that showed incredibly poor judgment – but she shows his upbringing and his life experiences (particularly the effect on him of the deaths of two of his aunts and two of his friends) so that you can completely see why he got to that point and what led him to make that awful decision.
I thought this was an incredibly good book – fascinating, human and chock-filled with empathy and while it’s targeted at a YA audience, it’s a book that I think a lot of grown-ups would benefit from reading. It’s one of my standout reads for 2018 and I will definitely be checking out Slater’s other work on the back of it.
An interesting and thought-provoking read, I would personally have preferred more detail about the individuals and a little less about the political issues (not that they are not very important), but overall I enjoyed it and recommend it for older teens or adults.
The story is based on the lives of two young men you could describe them, one Sasha a transgender was simply living his life quietly while Richard was a typical teenager always looking for the next party or joke. Through this book, you really get to know the two boys and how their chance meeting changes not only that one bus journey but the rest of their lives will never be the same again.
It is a book which showed me not only the lives of teenagers but how modern day America is for young people which is a world away from my life here in the UK.
A true-life story which I would recommend to be read in schools as it has a tough lesson throughout.
Happy to recommend.
It's a sad and yet realistic read, and by the end, I did feel slightly uplifted, but, if I'm honest, it was also depressing at times. A sign of the times, I think, in modern day USA.