Title: The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
Author: Dashka Slater
Genre: True Crime, LGBTQ+ issues
PopSugar Prompt: a book in a different format than you usually read (ebook, audiobook, graphic novel, etc).
As much as I love podcasts, I’m not a big audiobook person. I like that I can listen to podcasts in small chunks, doing dishes, laundry, running errands, but to listen to a book in small chunks is really hard. I just forget what happened last time. Yesterday, I had massive chores ahead of me. I knew I was in for the long haul of several hours. Through the amazing https://www.audiobooksync.com/ site, every summer I download free audiobooks. They give you two choices, you pick one. Knowing I wanted to listen to the whole book yesterday, I selected the shortest one and put it on 1.5 speed. Voila! Entire book in one day.
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.
I’ve been told how amazing this book is. I knew it was non-fiction but that was all I knew. So when we first meet Sasha and learn that they are an agender person, I realized the magnitude of what this book was about. It wasn’t just about two teens involved in a crime, but it was potentially a hate crime against an LGBTQ+ individual. We learn Sasha’s backstory and how they came to be known as Sasha. Born a male, Sasha never really felt truly male nor truly female, hence the agender decision. They (pronoun of Sasha’s choice) renamed themself Sasha because it’s a gender neutral name and started wearing skirts because that was the clothing they felt was most comfortable.
One day riding the 57 bus in Oakland, Sasha’s life collided with Richard’s. He was a good kid, but he had made some dumb mistakes, fighting, skipping school, bad grades, but he was really trying to turn things around. He and a friend saw Sasha, wondered why a boy was wearing a skirt, and decided to play a prank, or so they thought. Richard took a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, fully expecting a little flame that Sasha would quickly pat out and would go on about their day. However, as Sasha was sleeping, the fire quickly erupted into a fireball, burning their legs from thigh to calf.
The entire book lets you into both Sasha’s and Richard’s lives before and after the first. You really get to know these kids. Richard made a poor decision, but had Sasha not been wearing a skirt, the fire never would have happened. Make no mistake: Richard’s decision was horrendous. He was also 16 and severely underestimated what would happen. That’s no excuse. He deserved any and all punishment he received. I’ve taught 16-year-old, and boy can they be poor decision makers. I absolutely do not justify his actions, but I see how Sasha and their family came to the realization that forgiving Richard (who took full responsibility) was the right thing to do.
This book was fantastic. Pieced together through social media posts, news articles, public records, and interviews, the author does an amazing job of telling the full story. The book, while telling a terrible story, is one of optimism. Sasha, despite the fire, has moved on to college, living a great life. Richard, since he took full responsibility and has the support of his family, could really turn his life around. This book is critical for students to learn empathy for people who might look different, act different, or feel differently than them. I’d love to see every high school student read this one!