Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Favorite quote: “Never let your obstacles become more important than your goal.”
I picked up The 57 Bus because it was nominated for a book award in my state. It’s a nonfiction true-crime book that explores the backstories of two very different teens and the crime that caused their worlds to collide.
18-year-old Sasha is a middle-class white teen with Asperger’s who goes to a private school. They identify as agender- neither male nor female. 16-year-old Richard is an African-American boy who is from a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood. Both of them live in Oakland, California, but they never would have met if it weren’t for the day they both rode the 57 bus. When Richard saw Sasha sleeping in a nearby seat, wearing a skirt, he decided it would be funny to light the skirt on fire. It would only be a joke; Sasha’s skirt would just smolder a little and go out. Richard didn’t expect Sasha’s skirt to go up in flames, leaving 70% of Sasha’s body burned and Richard facing adult hate crime charges and possible life in prison.
The great thing about this book was that it didn’t make things black and white, and it showed compassion for both people. Dashka Slater didn’t opt for a narrative that condemned Richard as an evil, remorseless criminal; in fact, she criticized the media that tried to do exactly that. Richard’s side of the story was completely told, the story of a kid who made a terrible mistake and must live with the consequences. Slater unpacked the flawed justice system, homophobia and prejudice, and the negative cycle of poverty and crime. She advocated for both kids. The one part of the book I found most emotionally impactful was the inclusion of the apology letters Richard wrote to Sasha just one week after the fire. I also found it incredible how forgiving Sasha was; they had so much empathy for Richard even after what he did. It was a little slow at times, but The 57 Bus is a standout nonfiction book, especially if you are interested in criminal justice, etc.