Book Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

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

Summary by Goodreads:

33155325One 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.

Why you should read this book:

This is a true story of teenagers.  Two teens who could be your child, neighbor, friend. All it took was a flick of flame from a lighter and a reckless lapse of judgement and these two lives were changed forever.

Dashka Slater could have easily taken a one sided approach to her narration of this true event, but instead she portrays both Sasha and Richard fairly and honestly throughout the story.  We learn about the lives of both and understand the struggles each of them faces growing up in our society today.  While some may consider Richard the “villain” for his actions, Slater opens our eyes to Richard’s honesty and the truth he shares about his experience being tried as an adult.  His past is not clean and through this event we learn more about the consequences of being an African American placed in our juvenile justice system.

Sasha faces their own struggles throughout this experience.  Sasha and their friends navigate the the LGBTQ+ world facing discrimination on a daily basis.  Slater was purposeful in how she educates the reader about these concepts of nonbinary gender identities and makes them accessible for people like me to understand. It opened my eyes to what a few of my students face on a daily basis, and gave me the knowledge I need to support or understand them.

The 57 Bus is one that every teacher or librarian should have on their shelf for teens to read.  It tackles the themes of gender identity, racism, hate crime, discrimination, tolerance, and forgiveness.  If readers get anything out of this book, my hope is it would be empathy.  Empathy for people who are different from them. Empathy for people who face situations that we may never face.  Instead of denying that this happens, this book will help open people’s eyes what life might be like for someone else.

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