The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

One teenager in a skirt. One teenager with a lighter.One moment that changes both of their lives forever.If it weren't for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills an...

Title:The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
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Edition Language:English

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives Reviews

  • Marisa

    This was an amazingly written work of nonfiction for a teen (or older) audience. This book presents 2 teens brought together on the same bus for a small amount of time, and the one act that changed their lives (for good and bad) forever. There are no black and whites in this book, the author attempts to tell the story of Sasha, an agender teen who likes to dress how they felt was right, as well as Richard a boy who had a lot of hardship, loss, and sadness in his life, who had a lighter that day.

    This was an amazingly written work of nonfiction for a teen (or older) audience. This book presents 2 teens brought together on the same bus for a small amount of time, and the one act that changed their lives (for good and bad) forever. There are no black and whites in this book, the author attempts to tell the story of Sasha, an agender teen who likes to dress how they felt was right, as well as Richard a boy who had a lot of hardship, loss, and sadness in his life, who had a lighter that day.

    I enjoyed that the author didn't write just to the trial, but explored the current criminal justice system.

    This book will win many awards.

  • Zola

    Although not the root cause, the two teenagers involved in this situation were on different sides of a sharp class divide. Shasha, white, came from a middle-class background; at home, they had time to dream, read, and create other languages, worlds, and plans for their own future. Richard, Black, attended a school with larger classes, more working class students, and more crime in the surrounding neighborhoods -- little time or quiet for dreams and aspirations there. Judging from the information

    Although not the root cause, the two teenagers involved in this situation were on different sides of a sharp class divide. Shasha, white, came from a middle-class background; at home, they had time to dream, read, and create other languages, worlds, and plans for their own future. Richard, Black, attended a school with larger classes, more working class students, and more crime in the surrounding neighborhoods -- little time or quiet for dreams and aspirations there. Judging from the information in this book, Richard seems to have had no contact with the Bay Area’s Black middle class, a social class which is not new (it existed before the technology industry boom). Sasha’s own parents would have modeled certain forms of class mobility, while Richard have had no such experience.

    The author’s use of short chapters works very well for this particular sad, true story. In so many criminal incidents or disasters, the ‘real story’ is told in fragments: witnesses, first responders, victims, perpetrators, counselors, and that’s why the shart chapter lengths works.

    Slater obviously devoted time and consideration to handling this story in an empathetic way. Because Richard remained incarcerated when this book was written, it’s understandable that his side of the story lacks a certain depth. Perhaps this may have been remedied somewhat by researching and discussing the larger context of his teenage world. African American communities have always had LGBTQIA people, out to one degree or another. Black queerness is hardly an innovation, as certain early Blues recordings (Ma Rainey’s Prove it on Me) make clear. Working-class Black queer dance, slang vocabulary, mannerism, fashion, performance styles, and more are repeatedly copied and reproduced in mainstream culture, usually without no acknowledgment of the original creators. This sort of historical and social context is absent, and it makes the book feel somewhat unbalanced. What might Richard have been likely to hear and observe when growing up? Who lives in the Oakland neighborhoods where he lived and attended school? It’s just as likely that Richard might have been goaded to set a Black nonbinary gender person’s skirt on fire, although there may not have been as much media attention. Statistical data about family income, school completion rates, and racialized institutional and social environments can’t answer all of “Why?” questions here. How could they?

    The adults around Richard could only present one side of this story. Some mystery remains at the end of the book; who were the older women that came to Richard’s court hearings to observe? The author includes a brief reference to a short TV interview at the courtroom in which the women express concern over juvenile justice sentencing. Whether or not they took any action --- letters to officials or to Richard, for example -- remains unknown. Had the author been able to find and interview these women, it may added some depth to the story, and offered more possibilities for a motive.

    An empathetic, dedicated member of the school staff made the time and effort to ask Richard about his inner life and home lives, the interviews with her show that the adults in his life were fully aware of the problems in the children’s environments, and that they wanted to help.

    So is this book about race, sexuality, gender roles, or all three? Maybe it’s about the last. Without a more personal understanding of the environment Richard lived in, there is no real sense of his interior life. He remains nearly as distant and unknowable at the book’s end as its beginning, despite the author’s choice of interview subjects. In contrast, the in-depth interviews with Sasha’s parents and various forms of documentation provide a well-rounded portrait. Only Sasha seems truly alive at the end of the book, flourishing at MIT, able to put a lifelong interest in public transportation to use in preparation for a career. The frightening, bewildering incident isn’t forgettable, but they have something to look forward to.

    Book clubs may want to choose some additional materials to read and discuss if they select The 57 Bus. I recommend this as a way to inform participants about nonbinary gender, LBGTQIA people in African American history and culture, and the changing Bay Area.

  • Heidi

    There are events in life that become gateways to the future in major ways. The fire that occurred on the 57 bus on November 4, 2013. Two young people's lives would never be the same as a result of the decision that was made. I appreciated the way that Slater gives a brief overview of the event before digging into the lives of Sasha and Richard (last names not shared in order to provide privacy). By the time the author circles back to the fire and the consequences I felt like I knew and cared abo

    There are events in life that become gateways to the future in major ways. The fire that occurred on the 57 bus on November 4, 2013. Two young people's lives would never be the same as a result of the decision that was made. I appreciated the way that Slater gives a brief overview of the event before digging into the lives of Sasha and Richard (last names not shared in order to provide privacy). By the time the author circles back to the fire and the consequences I felt like I knew and cared about both Sasha and Richard. This depth gives the fire more meaning and makes it all the more tragic. Not only do we as readers follow the experiences of both Sasha, the one who got burned, but also Richard the one who committed the crime, but we see the event through the eyes of the media, the courts, and family and friends of both Sasha and Richard. The author gives a nice background into Sasha's agender identity as well as a brief introduction to different sexual and gender identities, which was helpful in understanding Sasha (who the world tends to see as a young man) and why the skirt Sasha wore became a target of Richard and his two friends.

    I found the story of Sasha and Richard and what happened to them (and where they are up to the publication of the book) rather compelling. The short chapters make this a good book for YA reluctant readers. I think one of the most powerful aspects of the book is the author's ability to share both Sasha's experiences and Richard's. It makes it hard to completely condemn Richard for a moment of sheer stupidity as he gives in to peer pressure as well as the unfairness of his two friends never getting charged, even though Richard wouldn't have done what he did without them egging him on. The court system and its strengths and weaknesses play an important role in the story as does forgiveness, redemption, and second chances. The nature of the story means that rough language, and mature content relating to gender, sexuality, and bullying all come into play, making this book most appropriate for high school and up.

  • Hannah Greendale

    to watch a video review of this book on my channel,

    .

    In November of 2013 in Oakland, California, an agender teenager riding the 57 bus was set on fire. In an instant – with a flicker of flame and a reckless lapse in judgement – the lives of two teenagers were changed forever.

    Using information garnered from interviews, social media, public records, and surveillance videos, journalist Dashka Slater expands - in an unbiased manner - on her

    published in

    to watch a video review of this book on my channel,

    .

    In November of 2013 in Oakland, California, an agender teenager riding the 57 bus was set on fire. In an instant – with a flicker of flame and a reckless lapse in judgement – the lives of two teenagers were changed forever.

    Using information garnered from interviews, social media, public records, and surveillance videos, journalist Dashka Slater expands - in an unbiased manner - on her

    published in the

    in January of 2015.

    Sasha is a white teen from a middle-class family who attends private school. In terms of sexual orientation, Sasha identifies as neither male nor female. Slater capitalizes on the opportunity to give a comprehensive introduction on the myriad terms used to describe a person's gender, sex, and sexuality. While touching on Sasha’s fascination with language, Slater gently segues into an explanation for the pronouns an agender person prefers.

    she

    he

    he, she

    it

    they

    *

    Richard is a black teen who attends public school and lives with his mother, Jasmine, in a crime-riddled neighborhood.

    *

    Even though Richard is an all-around good kid, he makes one tragic mistake. He holds a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, thinking he’ll just give the sleeping Sasha a scare. But Sasha awakes with their clothing engulfed in flames. Shortly thereafter, Richard is faced with the prospect of being tried as an adult for his crime.

    What follows is a story that raises awareness about the unprecedented level of violence inflicted on transgender people – “

    ”* – reveals crippling flaws in the criminal justice system – “

    ”* – and explores themes of race and class, gender and identity, as well as crime and punishment.

    Compassionate in its exploration of two sides of a story and noteworthy for its emphasis on empathy,

    is an impressive work of non-fiction that belongs in the hands of every teenager and adult.

    --

    Special thanks to

    for providing a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    *Note: all quotes are provided from an uncorrected proof.

  • Elyse

    THIS IS A TRUE STORY.....

    The 57 bus travels through the wealthy neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills where they boast good schools ( where Tom Hanks and I attended) - and traveled into the flatlands of East Oakland, where the bulk of the cities murders happened.

    Sasha attended a small private school in Berkeley— passing the area where Richard went to school ( in the flatlands).

    “Each afternoon, the two teenagers’ journeys overlapped a mere eight minutes. If it hadn’t been for the 57 bus, their pa

    THIS IS A TRUE STORY.....

    The 57 bus travels through the wealthy neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills where they boast good schools ( where Tom Hanks and I attended) - and traveled into the flatlands of East Oakland, where the bulk of the cities murders happened.

    Sasha attended a small private school in Berkeley— passing the area where Richard went to school ( in the flatlands).

    “Each afternoon, the two teenagers’ journeys overlapped a mere eight minutes. If it hadn’t been for the 57 bus, their paths might never have crossed it all”.

    Sasha was asleep on the bus - sitting in the back.

    Richard was on the bus with Sasha. They had never met. Sasha was wearing a skirt. Richard set fire on Sasha’s skirt.

    Sasha was rushed to the burn hospital in San Francisco. Sasha had third-degree burns. The skin was burned all the way through, down to the fat below. Sasha's legs were unrecognizable – – weirdly colored, charred, and flaking. It was estimated that 22% of Sasha’s body was burned.

    Sasha was a gifted student - a senior - at a very unique private school called Maybeck...where unconventionality was an asset.

    At age 7, Sasha was diagnosed having Asperger’s syndrome. By the time she was a sophomore in High School - although her birth name was Luke.....( her middle name Sasha which she discovered was a Russian nickname for both Alexandra and Alexander — and Sasha loved all things ‘Russian’. Sasha was a perfect fit name for how "they" ‘felt’. Not male - Not female. The idea of not having a gender was not frightening, but was also not a relief. In time Sasha became comfortable not identifying herself with any gender.

    As an agender - who perhaps looks like a boy - and wears a skirt on a public bus -

    could possibly worry a mother. No mom wants to know that other kids might ‘tease’ their child .... but burn them? That’s not a thought that even enters a mother’s, (parents), mind.

    When Richard was being interviewed by Officer Jones....he stated that he was homophobic. With no lawyer in the room - he was facing adult prison. Restorative justice discussion became a distraction really - because there is no way Richard was not going to be incarcerated. What he did could not be ignored.

    Ok.... ENOUGH DETAILS in this review.....( this book explores gender identity-racism- hate crime - discrimination- tolerance- and forgiveness).....

    ITS OUTSTANDING.....

    I was soooo moved my Maybeck Private School. The day that Sasha returned.... after her stay in the hospital for 23 days (many surgeries) - the ENTIRE SCHOOL — including the staff — wore a SKIRT....

    I lost it: I started crying like a baby! I loved Sasha - and her parents! I cared for Richard’s mother, Jasmine, too. And, my heart broke for Richard ( a little less)... but I still hurt for him too.

    I was happy Paul was sitting next to me - THANK YOU PAUL.... We talked a lot about the legal system - rehabilitation ( and how sad that prison ‘doesn’t’....’rehabilitate’)

    We talked about Richard, his family - HE WASN’T a MONSTER -

    And I cried just at the thought of my child suffering with pain of burns on her body.

    In “Bus 57”....( a bus I took often throughout my childhood) - NO NAMES WERE CHANGED- is sad... very sad....yet it cautions ....and it even inspires.

    HIGHLY RECOMMEND! A very sweet thank you to HANNAH! The minute after I read your review- I bought this book. It arrived a couple of days ago in the mail. I read it today. Thanks, Hannah ... very much!

  • Cheryl

    I may have read articles about this story but I can't remember. The fact that Dashka covered this story as a journalist was a great factor in this book. The author already had first had knowledge on this subject matter. What I enjoyed the most about this book is that it did not read like just a bunch of interviews. Yet, everyone who spoke and was featured in this book had a name and a face. It was like I was there in person listening as everyone spoke.

    Yet, this book was not just about the crime

    I may have read articles about this story but I can't remember. The fact that Dashka covered this story as a journalist was a great factor in this book. The author already had first had knowledge on this subject matter. What I enjoyed the most about this book is that it did not read like just a bunch of interviews. Yet, everyone who spoke and was featured in this book had a name and a face. It was like I was there in person listening as everyone spoke.

    Yet, this book was not just about the crime but about the people; specifically Sasha and Richard. The book is broken out into different parts. The first parts give the reader an insight into who Sasha and Richard are before the event. While, the event was horrible, I felt like Richard really did not have malice intentions towards Sasha. He just made a very stupid judgment in error that cost him dearly. Just from reading this book, it seemed that Richard was a scapegoat. This book captured my attention and kept it until the very end.

  • Sara

    I cannot recommend this book enough. It does so much.

    It examines what it means to be a (fairly privileged) non-binary white teen with Aspergers.

    It examines what it means to be an African-American male teen from a rough part of Oakland.

    It examines the criminal justice system, particularly where it involves juveniles being tried as adults.

    It looks at the complexities and problems of assigning a criminal act as a "hate crime".

    The book is empathetic, and subtle, and cuts through the narrative wove

    I cannot recommend this book enough. It does so much.

    It examines what it means to be a (fairly privileged) non-binary white teen with Aspergers.

    It examines what it means to be an African-American male teen from a rough part of Oakland.

    It examines the criminal justice system, particularly where it involves juveniles being tried as adults.

    It looks at the complexities and problems of assigning a criminal act as a "hate crime".

    The book is empathetic, and subtle, and cuts through the narrative woven by the media to look at the actual people involved and the far more complicated truth that exists for something that most people only learned about through headlines.

    I live in the Bay Area, so I remember very clearly the incident that this book revolves around: in 2013, on an Oakland bus, one teenager lit another (non gender conforming) teenager's skirt on fire, which resulted in the victim suffering horrible burns, and the perpetrator being charged with a hate crime and tried as an adult. Slater's book is so important because it deals with so many charged issues in a sensitive and illuminating way.

  • Kathryn

    I rarely read YA non-fiction, but I made an exception for Dashka Slater’s

    As a librarian,

    While it’s liberal, my home state is predominantly white. Fortunately as a child I lived abroad, so I had exposure to diverse groups of people and experiences. Born and bred Vermonters don’t necessarily have that luxury.

    And

    I rarely read YA non-fiction, but I made an exception for Dashka Slater’s

    As a librarian,

    While it’s liberal, my home state is predominantly white. Fortunately as a child I lived abroad, so I had exposure to diverse groups of people and experiences. Born and bred Vermonters don’t necessarily have that luxury.

    And

    Black Lives Matter is relegated to a news headline, rather than being a fully realized idea. Working with teens, my

    White Vermont teens may not have direct interaction with the Black Lives Matter movement (or similar social justice topics), but they can read Angie Thomas’ thought-provoking novel

    But books do provide

    A groundwork. A reference point. And, frankly sometimes that’s the best we can do.

    On the heels of

    and with today’s social climate,

    It’s

    Sasha (the victim) and Richard’s (the attacker) backstories are fully explored. Contrary to Nancy Grace,

    especially those committed by juvenile offenders. Oakland itself and Richard’s backstory are paid careful consideration. And after learning about both a clearer picture emerges.

    Instead we’re presented with a portrait of a goofy, often quiet, but smart TEENAGER raised in poverty who desperately tries to avoid getting in trouble.

    He’s not “bad.” Or "evil." Don’t get me wrong:

    A favor not granted by the media who manipulated both Richard and his mother’s words by

    It’s a topic also addressed in

    The ability of news stations to influence viewer opinion. Often, negatively.

    In addition to media criticism,

    is also a

    A system where Richard, despite being only 16-years-old, is

    And being tried as an adult, he

    But perhaps most importantly, charging a teen as an adult means they end up in

    Basically it’s an exploration of

    What’s our actual goal, especially for juvenile offenders? As a teenager, Richard’s limbic system is still developing. He physically and mentally has less impulse control than adults.

    Experts and Richard’s supervisory adults attest that he was

    An ideal candidate for

    , a program proven to divert and prevent future criminal activity. But because he was convicted of an adult felony, this opportunity was lost.

    Again, as much as it may sound like it, the story doesn’t excuse Richard’s actions. It’s

    In fact, Sasha and their family, publicly disagreed with the court’s decision to try Richard as an adult. Sasha and their parents seemed to have a more broad understanding of the crime, its circumstances, and repercussions than the legal system.

    It’s not the Richard show despite my review’s focus.

    does a

    Both Sasha and their friends grapple with gender identity and human nature’s constant need to define ourselves. And it’s

    presents

    Interspersed letters, texts, social media exchanges, and poetry further separate this work from its more dull and pedantic peers.

  • Julie

    A fascinating, timely read about intersections, the variety in communities, the problems with our justice systems and our education systems, gender, and race. Definitely an important book to get to teens and educators.

  • paula

    100% my recommendation for any high school that does an all-school read, especially any school that implements restorative justice. The whole book is about opening our thinking up past the confines of the binary - boy and girl, good and bad, guilt and innocence.

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