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

F511F697-6F50-4094-8953-629BD40E493AI grew up in Oakland, CA and had never heard about this story. It is a true one, from 2013, and it is pretty heartbreaking. If you have never heard about this book or this story here is a little more information for you.

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 and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

This book was originally an article for The New York Times. I’m glad its was turned into a book. I’m glad this book exists. It is a Young Adult Non-Fiction book, a genre I had not been familiar with before reading this book. The book is mostly written in a straight forward journalistic style, but there are moments of poetry woven between the reporting. It allows for a little reflection and processing.

The 57 Bus does an amazing job of breaking down the different terms and pronouns to use for all gender and sexual identities. Sasha’s process is complicated and nuanced, and Slater really takes the time and care to present Sasha fully, without judgement. Sasha is presented as so many things at once, a complete and complex individual.

When it comes to Richard, Slater does a good job giving us the context of his life, however I do feel that there is not the same care paid to him. I don’t know if there should be, given the circumstances. I do feel she attempts to treat both teenagers as equal, both trying to navigate the world and move into adulthood. However the subtleties and complexities of being young, black, and male in a city like Oakland are not fully dealt with. Richard feel incomplete.

For example, when Slater attempts to explain how we arrived in a place where juveniles could be prosecuted as adults and receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, she spends a few pages discussing “super predators”. A racist term created in the 1990’s to scare people into thinking that young black youth would become more violent, which led to the stricter imprisonment laws. Then at the end of this section, Slater just says, “super predators” were a myth. And like that, she dismisses this idea she has spent time setting up. That is not adequate. Especially as this is a Young Adult book directed at audience that were not alive during the time of “super predator” fear and anxiety. A more equivocal dismantling of the myth was needed.

These small slights toward the black experience in this book left me a little frustrated. Knowing that many young adults are not fully versed in the racial politics that lead to the label of black youths as bad, in need of special education, and eventually to incarceration. More could be done to give the context of the systemic racism that black youth face.

I would certainly recommend this book. Its an interesting story, and a good reminder that we’ve got to teach our children better. I would suggest reading it with a critical eye. It would be especially powerful for young people with an interest in social justice.

Tell me what you thought of this book in the comments.

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (October 17, 2017)
  • 3/5 stars
  • Buy The 57 Bus on Amazon

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