The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

BooksThe 57 Bus is a “ripped from the headlines,” true story of one teenager lighting another’s clothes on fire on a public bus in Oakland. Author and journalist Dashka Slater goes beyond the headlines to present the story and characters in great detail and nuance.

Sasha is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and does not identify as male or female, instead using the pronoun “they.” Sasha has supportive parents and goes to a school where they have many friends, but on the public bus ride across Oakland from school back home Sasha’s skirt is lit on fire by Richard. How will this affect Sasha, their family, friends, and community?

Richard’s actions were unquestionably intentional. Sasha spent weeks in the hospital having painful surgeries in an to attempt to repair the burns. Should sixteen-year-old Richard be charged with a hate crime in addition to the obvious charges he faces? Should he be tried as an adult or a juvenile? What are the potential ramifications of these decisions?

I am not good at remembering the specifics of books and movies, nor do I remember the lyrics to many songs. (You really don’t want me on your trivia team.) I like most of the books I read, but ask me to recall the plot and characters a few months later, and we’ll be lucky if I can extract much information.

It’s too early to tell since I only recently read The 57 Bus, but I think my recall of it will be different. The characters and plot are memorable. The journalistic treatment of the story—seeing the perspectives of friends and family of both teens, in addition to getting a glimpse into the workings of the juvenile justice system, made this book a well-rounded and thought-provoking read.