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

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

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

When you get your hands on a great non-fiction book, it can make an impact far beyond than just being a satisfying read.  This is true of the next two books.

Both happened during my lifetime.  One I had heard about, but only in passing; the other I never heard about even though it took place within the last five years.

Both books made an impact on their social culture.  One became a law; the other created awareness.  One challenged society behind a curtain; the other challenged society with the shutters open wide.

Both books allow the reader to see what happens when the status quo is challenged.  One book showed the horrors of segregation and violence found in our history books that our grandparents or even our parents knew/experienced first hand.  The other shows that this is still happening today and something teenagers could experience first hand during their lifetimes.

Both books also show strength in individuals.  One woman refused to live apart from her husband and was sparked to make a difference, never knowing what path that would lead her down and the strength she would need through herself and others to impact our nation.  One young man showed strength through hours of physical and emotional pain to find the power to forgive and understand the power they created through social media and broadcasts.

Both are books that should be read or listened to.  Written in narrative non-fiction format, they are compelling, each in their own way, but both books are alike in that they show how endurance through a time a change and acceptance can be powerful.

I read The 57 Bus, which is the story of Sasha.  They identify as agender and was more comfortable wearing a skirt that pants or shorts.  They also knew the difficulty of being different, but with the school Sasha attended in Oakland California, they were accepted.  But one day on the bus going home, someone saw the uniqueness that was who this quiet person who loved Russian literature and history was and decided to mess with them.  A lighter came out, and skirt was set on fire, and Sasha was severely burned on over 20% of his body.  But this book is also about teens and the way they think.  It's about different cultures and opportunities, it's about the love of families and the pain of making bad choices.  I especially like the fact that the author wasn't biased in her writing on guilt or innocence but stayed factual through eyewitness accounts, courtroom testimonies and interviews.

320 pages 978-0374303235 Ages 14 and up

Recommended by:  Naomi Bates, Library Specialist, Texas USA

See more of her recommendations:  http://naomibates.blogspot.mx/2018/02/we-are-diverse-ya-non-fic-then-and-now.html *********

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.--from the publisher


“Found my coat and grabbed my hat Made the bus in seconds flat” --Lennon/McCartney, “A Day in the Life” (1967)

Born to a fourteen-year-old single mom, Richard was a jokester, a black teen who had a poor attendance record and lousy grades. He attended Oakland High School:

“The finish line was marked with a cap and gown and a march across the stage. That year, two-thirds of O High’s students made it. You could get there, if nothing knocked you down. But life had a way of sticking its foot out, sending you sprawling. And then you were part of the other one-third, hanging in the hallways instead of going to class, or just drifting away altogether, away from school, away from that march across the stage, into a future that was as hazy as weed smoke. Of course, you rarely notice when you come to the fork in the road. It just feels like another day. A day when you didn’t go to school because you were sick or your baby sister was sick, or you didn’t study for that test so why bother taking it, or your clothes looked ratty and you were tired of hearing about it, or someone was looking for you and you needed to lay low for a few days, or any of a hundred other reasons that made not going to class seem like a better choice than going. Only once you stopped going it just seemed too hard to start again. Days rolled into weeks. Weeks into months. And then at some point you realized you’d entered the future. The one you never planned on. The one where everything was going to be that much harder.”

Once diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, Sasha was a white, agendered, physiologically male teenager who preferred to wear skirts and did well at school. He attended Maybeck High:

“Kids who weren’t into school were unlikely to choose Maybeck, a private high school with roughly a hundred kids that rented space on two floors of a Presbyterian church in Berkeley. In the tiny classrooms, students gathered around conference tables and critiqued the concept of America as a shining city on a hill, or compared the writings of Charles Darwin and Ursula K. Le Guin.”

Award-winning journalist Dashka Slater closely examines the lives of these two adolescents from Oakland whose paths fatefully cross for a few minutes on the AC Transit 57 bus in November, 2013. The key to this exceptional piece of nonfiction is the that we really get to know all of the central and peripheral characters, come to understand what makes the two main characters tick, and come to feel something for both of them. This complex story interweaves key issues of our time: gender questioning and fluidity, bullying, class privileges, racial oppression, and the shortcomings of the juvenile justice system.

Oakland is a city that contains wildly disparate populations and cultures, and in this situation, they tragically collide when Richard’s buddies persuade him to set afire the edge of the skirt Sasha is wearing as Sasha, heading home from school, dozes on the bus.

When the skirt burst into flames. Sasha suffered extensive third-degree burns and had to undergo weeks of surgeries and skin grafts. Cameras on the AC Transit 57 bus caught what happened, so Richard was identified and later arrested at his school. A decision was made to charge Richard with hate crimes and to try him as an adult.

We come to understand that, although Richard and Sasha live just miles apart, their lives, possibilities, and peer groups are completely different. Maybeck High is four miles--and a universe--away from Oakland High. Richard has lost friends and close relatives to gun violence, and you have to constantly be on guard at school. In contrast, Maybeck is a place where adolescents are free to be themselves, and where Sasha’s schoolmates all participated in a wear-a-skirt day to demonstrate their solidarity when he was hospitalized.

The one thing the pair of adolescents have in common is supportive parents who love them.

Particularly compelling is what we learn about the school-to-prison pipeline in California as Richard becomes part of the system. It didn’t matter how remorseful Richard was, nor how strongly Sasha’s parents objected to their child’s attacker being tried as an adult. The wheels of the system ground on and, sometimes, as we may well conclude, society is worse off for it.

Perhaps, you faintly recall the headlines about the incident on the 57 bus. What many readers will learn here is that you may really change your thinking once the Immediate tendency to judge gives way to learning the entirety of the story. THE 57 BUS is one eye-opener of a book.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations: http://richiespicks.pbworks.com

User reviews

1 review
I love this book so much I had to hear the story because I did not know that could ever happen. But people make dumb mistakes it just happens in the world and I loved how Sasha forgave Richard. So if you have not read this book then you need to
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