Margin Notes

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


Sasha, who identifies as agender, and Richard, a boy with a record, are two teenagers who both live in Oakland, California but the lives they are living couldn’t be more different. Yet, each afternoon, their paths cross for 8 minutes on The 57 Bus. On one of these afternoons, Richard, on impulse and egged on by peers, puts a lighter to Sasha’s skirt. Sasha is left severely burned and Richard is left charged with two hate crimes and the possibility of life-imprisonment.

But there is so much more to the story than just these details.

In four parts (Sasha, Richard, The Fire, and Justice), journalist and author Dashka Slater reveals how the truth is much more complicated than what can be learned through media headlines. Her use of fragments from witnesses, first responders, counsellors, friends, and even excerpts of text messages work together to show just how complicated that truth can be if you care enough to look at the actual people involved.

The story, as a whole, is compelling, emotional, and important to read because issues of race, class, and gender are explored and also because of the examination of the criminal justice system that is woven throughout. The writing is empathetic, insightful, and direct, for example when explaining Sasha’s use of the pronoun they, Slater writes, “English, on the other hand, poses a challenge for people like Sasha who don’t see themselves as fitting into neat either/or categories like male or female. Sasha, like many non-conforming people, wants to be referred to with the pronoun they. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.”

This book not only deserves to be but needs to be, in every high school classroom library. However, the issues that are brought to light are those that are often emotionally charged, and you know your students best, and who needs what book at what time in their reading lives.

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