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

Win a free print copy of this book!

15 days and 03:44:40

10 copies available
U.S. only
Rate this book
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.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published October 17, 2017

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About the author

Dashka Slater

22 books333 followers
Dashka Slater’s novel, The Wishing Box, was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, which called it “an impish novel, hopeful and full of humor.” She is the author of four acclaimed children's books: Baby Shoes; Firefighters in the Dark; The Sea Serpent and Me and Dangerously Ever After. She has two picture books forthcoming in 2017, as well as the much-anticipated Young Adult non-fiction narrative The 57 Bus.

Slater is also an award-winning journalist who has written for such publications as Newsweek, More, Salon, Mother Jones, Sierra, and The New York Times Magazine. The recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, she is currently working on new books for both children and adults. Learn more at www.dashkaslater.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,970 reviews
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
703 reviews3,281 followers
September 6, 2017
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

In November of 2013 in Oakland, California, an agender teenager riding the 57 bus was set on fire. In an instant – with a flicker of flame and a reckless lapse in judgement – the lives of two teenagers were changed forever.

Using information garnered from interviews, social media, public records, and surveillance videos, journalist Dashka Slater expands - in an unbiased manner - on her article published in the New York Times Magazine in January of 2015.

Sasha is a white teen from a middle-class family who attends private school. In terms of sexual orientation, Sasha identifies as neither male nor female. Slater capitalizes on the opportunity to give a comprehensive introduction on the myriad terms used to describe a person's gender, sex, and sexuality. While touching on Sasha’s fascination with language, Slater gently segues into an explanation for the pronouns an agender person prefers.

We care a lot about gender, and English reflects that in its pronouns – she or he, her or him, his or hers. You might think this is just how languages work in the real world, but there are many languages on earth that are basically gender neutral, using the same word for he, she and it, or not using pronouns at all. [. . .] English, on the other hand, poses a challenge for people like Sasha who don’t see themselves fitting into neat either/or categories like male or female. Sasha, like many gender-nonconforming people, asks people to use the pronoun they. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.*

Richard is a black teen who attends public school and lives with his mother, Jasmine, in a crime-riddled neighborhood.

Jasmine worried about Richard. Prayed. Prayed he’d graduate from high school. Prayed he wouldn’t become a parent as early as she had. Prayed he’d be safe from all the dangers that lurked for a young black man in Oakland – guns and crime and gangs and cops. Prayed he’d stay out of trouble. Prayed he’d survive.*

Even though Richard is an all-around good kid, he makes one tragic mistake. He holds a lighter to Sasha’s skirt, thinking he’ll just give the sleeping Sasha a scare. But Sasha awakes with their clothing engulfed in flames. Shortly thereafter, Richard is faced with the prospect of being tried as an adult for his crime.

What follows is a story that raises awareness about the unprecedented level of violence inflicted on transgender people – “one out of every four trans people has experienced a bias-driven assault, and the numbers are higher for trans women, trans people of color, and people who identify as neither male nor female”* – reveals crippling flaws in the criminal justice system – “Some people start committing crimes when they're young and keep on committing them, progressing from burglary to robbery to murder. The problem is, there’s no way to know which kid is going to mellow with age and which one is just getting warmed up”* – and explores themes of race and class, gender and identity, as well as crime and punishment.

Compassionate in its exploration of two sides of a story and noteworthy for its emphasis on empathy, The 57 Bus is an impressive work of non-fiction that belongs in the hands of every teenager and adult.

Special thanks to Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers for providing a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

*Note: all quotes are provided from an uncorrected proof.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews33 followers
October 23, 2017
The 57 bus travels through the wealthy neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills where they boast good schools ( where Tom Hanks and I attended) - and traveled into the flatlands of East Oakland, where the bulk of the cities murders happened.

Sasha attended a small private school in Berkeley— passing the area where Richard went to school ( in the flatlands).
“Each afternoon, the two teenagers’ journeys overlapped a mere eight minutes. If it hadn’t been for the 57 bus, their paths might never have crossed it all”.

Sasha was asleep on the bus - sitting in the back.
Richard was on the bus with Sasha. They had never met. Sasha was wearing a skirt. Richard set fire on Sasha’s skirt.
Sasha was rushed to the burn hospital in San Francisco. Sasha had third-degree burns. The skin was burned all the way through, down to the fat below. Sasha's legs were unrecognizable – – weirdly colored, charred, and flaking. It was estimated that 22% of Sasha’s body was burned.

Sasha was a gifted student - a senior - at a very unique private school called Maybeck...where unconventionality was an asset.

At age 7, Sasha was diagnosed having Asperger’s syndrome. By the time she was a sophomore in High School - although her birth name was Luke.....( her middle name Sasha which she discovered was a Russian nickname for both Alexandra and Alexander — and Sasha loved all things ‘Russian’. Sasha was a perfect fit name for how "they" ‘felt’. Not male - Not female. The idea of not having a gender was not frightening, but was also not a relief. In time Sasha became comfortable not identifying herself with any gender.

As an agender - who perhaps looks like a boy - and wears a skirt on a public bus -
could possibly worry a mother. No mom wants to know that other kids might ‘tease’ their child .... but burn them? That’s not a thought that even enters a mother’s, (parents), mind.

When Richard was being interviewed by Officer Jones....he stated that he was homophobic. With no lawyer in the room - he was facing adult prison. Restorative justice discussion became a distraction really - because there is no way Richard was not going to be incarcerated. What he did could not be ignored.

Ok.... ENOUGH DETAILS in this review.....( this book explores gender identity-racism- hate crime - discrimination- tolerance- and forgiveness).....

I was soooo moved my Maybeck Private School. The day that Sasha returned.... after her stay in the hospital for 23 days (many surgeries) - the ENTIRE SCHOOL — including the staff — wore a SKIRT....
I lost it: I started crying like a baby! I loved Sasha - and her parents! I cared for Richard’s mother, Jasmine, too. And, my heart broke for Richard ( a little less)... but I still hurt for him too.

I was happy Paul was sitting next to me - THANK YOU PAUL.... We talked a lot about the legal system - rehabilitation ( and how sad that prison ‘doesn’t’....’rehabilitate’)
We talked about Richard, his family - HE WASN’T a MONSTER -
And I cried just at the thought of my child suffering with pain of burns on her body.

In “Bus 57”....( a bus I took often throughout my childhood) - NO NAMES WERE CHANGED- is sad... very sad....yet it cautions ....and it even inspires.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND! A very sweet thank you to HANNAH! The minute after I read your review- I bought this book. It arrived a couple of days ago in the mail. I read it today. Thanks, Hannah ... very much!
Profile Image for Kathryn.
168 reviews288 followers
September 9, 2017
I rarely read YA non-fiction, but I made an exception for Dashka Slater’s The 57 Bus. As a librarian, I’ve been searching for ways to address social justice topics. While it’s liberal, my home state is predominantly white. Fortunately as a child I lived abroad, so I had exposure to diverse groups of people and experiences. Born and bred Vermonters don’t necessarily have that luxury. Living in a small, rural, white state is akin to existing in a bubble. And that bubble can make it challenging for residents to fully empathize with certain societal issues. Black Lives Matter is relegated to a news headline, rather than being a fully realized idea. Working with teens, my goal is to promote and increase awareness through literature. Books by their very nature are fantastic tools to foster empathy and understanding. White Vermont teens may not have direct interaction with the Black Lives Matter movement (or similar social justice topics), but they can read Angie Thomas’ thought-provoking novel “The Hate U Give. Is literature a replacement for experience? Of course not. But books do provide something. A groundwork. A reference point. And, frankly sometimes that’s the best we can do.

On the heels of The Hate U Give and with today’s social climate, The 57 Bus comes at an ideal time. Based on the real life story of a white Oakland agender teen attacked by another teen while riding the bus, the book is both insightful and balanced. It’s easy to dismiss this incident as a hate crime perpetrated by an African American gangbanger or thug. That’s what the media did. Ms. Slater takes a different approach. Sasha (the victim) and Richard’s (the attacker) backstories are fully explored. Contrary to Nancy Grace, crimes rarely occur in a vacuum, especially those committed by juvenile offenders. Oakland itself and Richard’s backstory are paid careful consideration. And after learning about both a clearer picture emerges. One where Oakland, one of the most diverse and deeply divided cities in the country, and the criminal justice system play a role in shaping events.

Dashka Slater could have easily formed a narrative casting Richard as our villain. That didn’t happen. Instead we’re presented with a portrait of a goofy, often quiet, but smart TEENAGER raised in poverty who desperately tries to avoid getting in trouble. Richard is no supervillain. He’s not “bad.” Or "evil." Don’t get me wrong: the book doesn’t condone or excuse his actions, but they’re provided necessary context. A favor not granted by the media who manipulated both Richard and his mother’s words by ripping away their substance to create their preferred narrative. It’s a topic also addressed in The Hate U Give. The ability of news stations to influence viewer opinion. Often, negatively.

In addition to media criticism, The 57 Bus is also a compelling indictment of the criminal justice system. A system where Richard, despite being only 16-years-old, is tried as an adult. And being tried as an adult, he loses protections granted to juveniles such as anonymity and reasonable sentences. But perhaps most importantly, charging a teen as an adult means they end up in adult prisons. Institutions that have been statistically proven to increase antisocial behaviors rather than erase them. Basically it’s an exploration of punishment vs. rehabilitation. What’s our actual goal, especially for juvenile offenders? As a teenager, Richard’s limbic system is still developing. He physically and mentally has less impulse control than adults. He’s mentally different, but treated the same. Experts and Richard’s supervisory adults attest that he was motivated to heal and learn from his crime. An ideal candidate for Restorative Justice, a program proven to divert and prevent future criminal activity. But because he was convicted of an adult felony, this opportunity was lost.

Again, as much as it may sound like it, the story doesn’t excuse Richard’s actions. It’s critiquing and exploring the systems that fostered this attack and the resultant legal response. In fact, Sasha and their family, publicly disagreed with the court’s decision to try Richard as an adult. Sasha and their parents seemed to have a more broad understanding of the crime, its circumstances, and repercussions than the legal system. Sasha is also provided equal narrative attention. It’s not the Richard show despite my review’s focus. The 57 Bus does a remarkably good job of explaining nonbinary gender identities and making those concepts accessible to the layperson. Both Sasha and their friends grapple with gender identity and human nature’s constant need to define ourselves. And it’s so skillfully handled that teens will undoubtedly empathize with this conflict.

The 57 Bus presents non-fiction in a narrative format. Interspersed letters, texts, social media exchanges, and poetry further separate this work from its more dull and pedantic peers. By avoiding oversentimentality and black-and-white definition, the reader comes away with not only increased awareness, but genuine empathy for BOTH Sasha and Richard. It’s a masterful piece and one that hopefully raises the bar for YA nonfiction.
Profile Image for Sara .
1,129 reviews111 followers
September 4, 2017
I cannot recommend this book enough. It does so much.

It examines what it means to be a (fairly privileged) non-binary white teen with Aspergers.
It examines what it means to be an African-American male teen from a rough part of Oakland.
It examines the criminal justice system, particularly where it involves juveniles being tried as adults.
It looks at the complexities and problems of assigning a criminal act as a "hate crime".

The book is empathetic, and subtle, and cuts through the narrative woven by the media to look at the actual people involved and the far more complicated truth that exists for something that most people only learned about through headlines.

I live in the Bay Area, so I remember very clearly the incident that this book revolves around: in 2013, on an Oakland bus, one teenager lit another (non gender conforming) teenager's skirt on fire, which resulted in the victim suffering horrible burns, and the perpetrator being charged with a hate crime and tried as an adult. Slater's book is so important because it deals with so many charged issues in a sensitive and illuminating way.

Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,187 followers
June 24, 2019
For eight minutes a day, Sasha and Richard's paths overlap. They each take the 57 bus, though their lives are vastly different and they live in different parts of Oakland. Sasha lives in the middle-class foothills whilst Richard's family is poor and lives in the inner city. If not for the 57 bus, these two teens paths might never have crossed; they might have lived their lives totally unaware of the other, and thus their lives would have been vastly different.

One afternoon, wanting to make his friend's laugh, Richard decided to hold a lit lighter to the skirt of Sasha, a sleeping agender teen who was dressed in vest and tie, flat hat and fluffy skirt. Richard thought the skirt would merely smolder, that Sasha would wake up immediately and put it out and no harm would be done. Just a funny prank at the expense of someone who was different from the norm. What happened instead is the stuff of nightmares. Sasha did wake up immediately but they were unable to put out the flames. Their skirt burst into flames and quickly consumed them. Sasha had 3rd degree burns on 22% of their body, causing immense suffering and requiring several surgeries.

The author tells the story of both teens, shares their lives and their humanity. Was Richard the vicious super predator the media made him out to be, who committed a horrendous hate crime? The prosecutor wanted to charge him as an adult though he was only 16 at the time. Thankfully, Sasha's parents did not agree with that and spoke out on Richard's behalf, lessening the harsh sentence that might otherwise have been imposed upon him. They saw Richard for the young man he was, a flawed individual like everyone else, impulsive like most other teens, but not a vicious and hateful criminal. It was beautiful to see their love and acceptance of their agender child, and beautiful to see their compassionate spirit. Sasha too was able to forgive Richard, accepting that he did not intend to hurt him.

This book is quick and easy to read, having been written for a teen audience. Normally, this is not my type of writing, but I went into it knowing that and, perhaps too, because the book is about two teenagers, it seemed appropriate for the story to be written on a young adult level. It wasn't dumbed down writing like a lot of YA books, but basic and to the point. Dashka Slater writes with compassion and insight, taking us into the minds of these two teens, showing us their worlds and their inner thoughts. Along with telling the story (which really did happen), she includes many statistics of incarcerated youth, showing how Black and Latinx teens are treated much more harshly in the judicial system, just as Black and Latinx adults are. She also seeks to educate the reader about non-binary gender identities. This is something that I think is mis-understood outside of the LGBQT+ community, or even sometimes within it, and I applaud Ms. Slater for the facts and insights she shares in this book. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Anna.
582 reviews76 followers
August 29, 2018
it takes pretty bad writing to make me bored of a true crime story but the author managed it!
Profile Image for Z.
90 reviews40 followers
July 23, 2017
Although not the root cause, the two teenagers involved in this situation were on different sides of a sharp class divide. Shasha, white, came from a middle-class background; at home, they had time to dream, read, and create other languages, worlds, and plans for their own future. Richard, Black, attended a school with larger classes, more working class students, and more crime in the surrounding neighborhoods -- little time or quiet for dreams and aspirations there. Judging from the information in this book, Richard seems to have had no contact with the Bay Area’s Black middle class, a social class which is not new (it existed before the technology industry boom). Sasha’s own parents would have modeled certain forms of class mobility, while Richard have had no such experience.

The author’s use of short chapters works very well for this particular sad, true story. In so many criminal incidents or disasters, the ‘real story’ is told in fragments: witnesses, first responders, victims, perpetrators, counselors, and that’s why the shart chapter lengths works.

Slater obviously devoted time and consideration to handling this story in an empathetic way. Because Richard remained incarcerated when this book was written, it’s understandable that his side of the story lacks a certain depth. Perhaps this may have been remedied somewhat by researching and discussing the larger context of his teenage world. African American communities have always had LGBTQIA people, out to one degree or another. Black queerness is hardly an innovation, as certain early Blues recordings (Ma Rainey’s Prove it on Me) make clear. Working-class Black queer dance, slang vocabulary, mannerism, fashion, performance styles, and more are repeatedly copied and reproduced in mainstream culture, usually without no acknowledgment of the original creators. This sort of historical and social context is absent, and it makes the book feel somewhat unbalanced. What might Richard have been likely to hear and observe when growing up? Who lives in the Oakland neighborhoods where he lived and attended school? It’s just as likely that Richard might have been goaded to set a Black nonbinary gender person’s skirt on fire, although there may not have been as much media attention. Statistical data about family income, school completion rates, and racialized institutional and social environments can’t answer all of “Why?” questions here. How could they?

The adults around Richard could only present one side of this story. Some mystery remains at the end of the book; who were the older women that came to Richard’s court hearings to observe? The author includes a brief reference to a short TV interview at the courtroom in which the women express concern over juvenile justice sentencing. Whether or not they took any action --- letters to officials or to Richard, for example -- remains unknown. Had the author been able to find and interview these women, it may added some depth to the story, and offered more possibilities for a motive.

An empathetic, dedicated member of the school staff made the time and effort to ask Richard about his inner life and home lives, the interviews with her show that the adults in his life were fully aware of the problems in the children’s environments, and that they wanted to help.

So is this book about race, sexuality, gender roles, or all three? Maybe it’s about the last. Without a more personal understanding of the environment Richard lived in, there is no real sense of his interior life. He remains nearly as distant and unknowable at the book’s end as its beginning, despite the author’s choice of interview subjects. In contrast, the in-depth interviews with Sasha’s parents and various forms of documentation provide a well-rounded portrait. Only Sasha seems truly alive at the end of the book, flourishing at MIT, able to put a lifelong interest in public transportation to use in preparation for a career. The frightening, bewildering incident isn’t forgettable, but they have something to look forward to.

Book clubs may want to choose some additional materials to read and discuss if they select The 57 Bus. I recommend this as a way to inform participants about nonbinary gender, LBGTQIA people in African American history and culture, and the changing Bay Area.
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,306 reviews219 followers
November 11, 2018

I disliked the heavy-handed storytelling, that was all telling with no showing. I felt like the writer’s agenda didn’t allow this true story to unfold organically. I found myself wanting to yell at her to allow me to come to my own conclusions, which would have likely been the same as hers. I don’t recommend.
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 2 books153 followers
July 26, 2021
On November 4, 2013, Richard Thomas, age 16, set 18-year-old Sasha Fleishman's clothing on fire during his ride home from school on the 57 bus. Both Sasha and Richard lived in Oakland, California, one of the US's most diverse and unequal cities. Sasha, a white middle-class youth, was diagnosed with Asperger's at age eight and identified as agender- neither male nor female. He attended an alternative high school in Berkley. At the time of the attack, Sasha was wearing a T-shirt, a black fleece jacket, and a gauzy white skirt. The fire caused such severe burning to his legs that he had to spend 23 days in a burn unit and receive multiple skin grafts.

Richard, an African-American youth, lived in East Oakland, a poor section of the city rife with violence that touched his life. Two of his aunts and three of his close friends were murder victims. His deeply religious mother, a food service worker, and her fiance raised Richard, his four-year-old brother, and two of her nieces. At fourteen, Richard got into a fight with a skateboarder and ended up in a group home for a year. When he returned home, Richard determined to turn his life around enrolled in an internship program at Oakland High School. In The 57 Bus,
Dashka Slater asks why Richard, who school officials and family members describe as a good kid who is a bit of a prankster, set a stranger's skirt on fire and what should be the punishment for his actions.

The 57 Bus is Young Adult nonfiction geared to a teen audience. Through extensive interviews and analysis of documents, Slater creates a complex portrait of both youths and examines the challenges they face. While she does not condone Richard's action, she questions those who want to try him as an adult rather than a juvenile. She asks readers to consider:
1- Was this a homophobic hate crime or a stupid prank gone awry? (Richard claims that he didn't think the fire would cause the damage it did. He thought there would just be a little smoke that Sasha could put out quickly. However, he also told the police that he wasn't homophobic, but that crossdressing took it too far.)
2-Should Richard be tried as an adult or a juvenile? If Richard were white, would the prosecution consider trying him as an adult, or is this a result of the racism inherent in the criminal justice system?
3- What is the best way to deal with juvenile offenders?
a) Try as an adult and serve time in an adult prison
b) Try as a juvenile and do time in a juvenile detention center?
c) Engage in a restorative justice program ( Meet with and face victim and do community service work in a burn unit.)
Slater provides research and data that help the reader think through these alternatives.

The 57 Bus is a thoughtful and timely work of YA nonfiction. I recommend it to teachers, teacher education, and parents to read with teens. In addition, I recommend Slater's article in the New York Times Magazine for anyone interested in the case but not interested in reading the book.
March 23, 2018
I would have rather read a news article about the crime. I felt the book was drawn out.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,288 reviews395 followers
July 6, 2018
Based on a true story, this book describes a horrific crime when a 16-year old black intentionally sets an agender person's skirt on fire, not realizing how flammable the material would be and the severe burns caused. Richard admits his guilt, but is vilified as a hatemonger and a political decision is made by the state prosecutor in Oakland to try them as an adult over the objections of the victim Sasha's family. Much like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I felt this book's scope was too large and thereby sacrificed in all areas from explaining the various genders and sexualities to character development (Sasha's own recognition that he (they) did not fit in the conventional two gender classification, happily supported by his parents and friends to Richard's own social problems) to gender and bias politics to legal and prosecutorial maneuvering.
Profile Image for Alicia.
5,887 reviews119 followers
January 1, 2019
Could this be a four rating? Sort of. I feel strongly about the content and approach to sharing these two teenagers' stories the way they did, BUT I was not keen on the storytelling itself.

I believe the pacing of the story was intentional with the chapters sometimes only one to two pages in length, but it was the wrong choice. It rushed the book when it didn't need to be rushed, especially for empathetic readers who want to dive in to Richard's story and Sasha's story. Sasha identifies as genderqueer and was taking the city bus home from their Oakland High School. Richard, an African American teenager riding with his friends thought it would be entertaining to light Sasha's skirt on fire. They were sleeping at the time, so did not understand what was happening when it was happening. Good Samaritans helped once the bus driver understood what was happening and of course, because Richard and his friends were stupid teenagers, they filmed some of it and then the bus cameras captured the rest. Sasha was burned over twenty-two percent of their body, mostly to the legs. What's more is that Sasha is also identified as having Asperger's.

The story also focuses on Richard's upbringing and the consequences that followed with a keen focus on the justice system and a heavy bit about restorative justice. Slater also shares pieces about Sasha's parents, victim impact statements, and a set of two letters that Richard wrote after the incident that Sasha and their parents didn't see for more than a year. Reader's follow Richard through the justice system and Sasha after being accepted to MIT.

It was well-rounded in a roundabout way. I wanted a little less white noise and a little more deep storytelling about their intersectionality. But it's a POWERFUL story about acceptance, and justice in all its forms. So if I could rate it on emotional appeal, 4.5, but execution is more of a flat 3.

Update: I re-read this book a little more than a year later to prepare for our upcoming author visit with Dashka and realize this book is definitely a 4. The execution of the straightforward approach is the journalistic style that needs to happen in a book like this so conversation can happen. The story, the people, the relationships, the interconnectedness of people is even more apparent in the second reading and I'm glad I did. Give it a 4! The first book read (re-read) in 2019 as a great way to kick off what will be a spectacular year!
Profile Image for Jonathan K (Max Outlier).
615 reviews120 followers
July 7, 2021
Enlightening true crime story that opens one's eyes to reality

A Bay area resident, I was unprepared for this journey. Teens who identify with neither gender can find themselves the subject of assault and in some cases, hospitalized. Such was the case with Sasha, an extremely intelligent, compassionate agender student minding their business on the 57 bus in Oakland. Parallel to their story are two others : that of the offender and the other, the juvenile criminal justice system. With many such cases going to the Supreme Court, guidelines remain foggy. Engaging from the first page, the elements highlighted are important as is the outcome. Open minds and hearts are what's important, as is change in the judicial system for juveniles. Those who choose to take this journey, will find the facts, stories and gender issues with schoolmates awakening. Extremely well written, paced and informative, I highly recommend this fact-based story.
Profile Image for Berkeley High School Library.
88 reviews29 followers
November 1, 2017
I first heard of the story when it occurred, reading the article about it in my sister’s high school newspaper in 2013. None of the words except the headline of the article stuck with me between then and the moment when I picked up The 57 Bus in 2017: “Agender Maybeck student set on fire”. Before reading the book, I had always regarded the incident as a tragedy, but nothing more. I didn’t know how deep and personal the story really was.

The 57 Bus goes above and beyond the headlines, dissecting and exploring every part of the tale. Sasha (the agender Maybeck student) was more than just the victim, and Richard (the Oakland High student who lit them aflame) was more than just the perpetrator. We get to know both of the youths as people, dive deep into their lives, and see how different they are. Sasha is white, lives in a wealthier neighborhood, and has Aspergers. They love playing games and inventing languages. We get to know their relationships with their friends, how one came out to them as trans, the games they play with their friends at Maybeck, and even become privy to some texts and IMs that their friends send to each other when Sasha is in the hospital. Richard, on the other hand, is black, lives in East Oakland, and attends Oakland High, described by many as “a tough place”. His mother, Jasmine, had him at 14 years old. He has lost multiple family members to gun violence. He is surrounded by crime and becomes both subject and perpetrator to it. He has a strong relationship with one of the counselors who helps troubled kids. Both kids lead such different lives, and the detailed analysis of them makes the book incredibly compelling. We also delve into the legal system and restorative justice after the event occurs. One of the most emotional moments in the book is when Sasha’s family at last receive the letters that Richard wrote to them in apology. “I’m not a monster… I’m a young African American male who’s made a terrible mistake. I hope you heal correctly. I just wanted you to know that I’m deeply sorry for my actions.”

Overall, this book is incredibly detailed and informative, compelling the reader through effective writing and an incredible story. I live right in the area where this story occurred and it really connected to me as a local. But it's definitely worth a read no matter where you live.

-Reviewed by Kate Mermin
Profile Image for Rita Shaffer.
406 reviews9 followers
February 27, 2018
3.5 stars ... this book is hard to review. The story is important for young people (actually, all people) to read because of the real lessons it teaches - one bad decision can really impact the lives of many people and no one should be hurt because of who they are.

I also learned so much about LGBTQ+ and the juvenile detention system from this book.

The writing definitely reads like multiple newspaper articles, though, and for me this was a little monotonous.

This book should be a part of every HS classroom library!
Profile Image for Erin.
2,960 reviews485 followers
February 23, 2023
Heartbreaking. Poignant. This book intricately weaves compassion with the facts around the case. A fellow English teacher recommended this book to me. The short chapters from the perspectives of all those involved but really focusing on the two teenagers kept me hooked.

Goodreads review published 23/02/23
Profile Image for Marisa.
631 reviews6 followers
April 18, 2018
This was an amazingly written work of nonfiction for a teen (or older) audience. This book presents 2 teens brought together on the same bus for a small amount of time, and the one act that changed their lives (for good and bad) forever. There are no black and whites in this book, the author attempts to tell the story of Sasha, an agender teen who likes to dress how they felt was right, as well as Richard a boy who had a lot of hardship, loss, and sadness in his life, who had a lighter that day.
I enjoyed that the author didn't write just to the trial, but explored the current criminal justice system.
This book will win many awards.
Profile Image for Myra.
106 reviews1 follower
June 1, 2022
Wow, here I thought this was going to be light reading about a "bully" and his victim that eventually became the best of friends after a huge misunderstanding. This is so much more than that. This is definitely a must read for any middle school - high school child. This author does not mince words. Lays the situation bare in front of the reader. How can the author make the reader feel sorry for the victim, the culprit, and even the parents and bystanders. Fantastic author that portrayed all as victims even though they may not have suffered any burns, the impact of this senseless crime is felt by all.

Upon reading the first chapter, I knew I was going to "hate" the culprit but the author although not dismissing his crime, really allows the reader to feel the quick decision that impacted him life. We all make rash foolish decisions too but are lucky enough to not cause great harm. The only people I did dislike greatly by the end of the book was the lawyer and the culprits friends that turned out to be fair-weather friends.

This should be read by all because it really helps build empathy for the child that stands out and support for all because it is the right thing to do.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,909 reviews4,817 followers
October 11, 2020
This book was phenomenal in the way that it handled such difficult topics. I don’t even have the words to describe my experience. I just know that I enjoyed every minute of it and that more people definitely need to check it out. It gives you a clear insight to gender identity and the criminal justice system.
Profile Image for ♥ Sandi ❣	.
1,271 reviews9 followers
December 14, 2019
4 stars

The non-fiction story of two young teens - each taking their own direction - each from their own environment - that came together for a fraction of a second and changed each others lives forever.
On Bus 57, Oakland California, November 4, 2013, a non-thinking act left one person critically burned and another person facing a hate crime.

This story takes you through the lives of two teenagers - from the day of a tragic accident - to the conclusion of it's aftermath. We see the similarities and the differences in these boys. We learn what being born and living just blocks from each other can mean. Neither boy is bad - neither boy is prejudice or biased - neither boy understands why. One thoughtless moment and it's ultimate outcome.

We learn in this book the difference of being tried as an adult and being tried as a juvenile. What the law accepts and what the law expects. We explore race and economic class, gender and identity. We read of forgiveness and acceptance.

In this story we are taught empathy and morality.
Profile Image for Lindsey.
474 reviews769 followers
July 23, 2019
This book surprised me more than I thought it would. A non fiction that reads like fiction (I had to remind myself a few times that this actually happened). You think it’s about a horrendous crime that occurs on a bus but you get a story of forgiveness and knowing who you are.
Profile Image for B.A. Wilson.
2,451 reviews305 followers
March 28, 2018
This story is one that deserves to be told. It's a true story about an agender student who is set on fire on a bus. The content is good and worthy of a book. However, it was just an okay read for me. I struggled with the presentation, particularly in the first half. While I usually applaud a unique style and/or daring approach, this is one that appears interesting but doesn’t always read well.

The style is somehow both flowery and clipped. Also, for me, the first half of the book was too cold and emotionless. As a result, I held the book at arm’s length. Yes, I know it’s nonfiction, but it’s still presented as a story, which means I expected to get caught up in a story. There were moments that caught my attention, but those were so short I could barely enjoy them before being thrown back into the clipped report style.

Basically, it’s nonfiction that occasionally reads like fiction. The start is extraordinarily clinical and does a lot of listing of facts, which did not pull me in. The author likes to use passive sentences with 3-4 adjectives for everything, followed by no action, which is off-putting and doesn’t really give me a better understanding of the situation or the setting. Examples (not exact quotes): The bus was hot, muggy, musty, chaotic, and crowded. It was loud, obnoxious, rowdy. The kids were tired, wired, etc. . . You get the picture, and often these sentences back up together, so it’s just one list of adjectives after another.

Since this is nonfiction, I guess it doesn’t have to follow the “show don’t tell” mantra of fiction writing, so it doesn’t. There’s lots of telling, and many sections read more like a text book, report, or newspaper article. There are occasional disruptions of what feels like random poetry, but that is really out of place and doesn’t make sense with the rest of the story and structure. As a result, it disrupts the story more than it adds to it.

Honestly, this would have been easier to read if it had just been straightforward nonfiction or all in a newspaper or report format. I think the transitions are poor between the varied styles, and that’s really at the heart of what bothers me and disrupts the story. The small bits that do read like fiction would draw me in. However, that just caused a bigger disconnect, because then I wanted the whole book to be that compelling. I especially dislike when it shifts from 3rd person to 2nd person, as that really pulled me out of the story.

That being said, I still believe this is a story worthy of being told, and I know it’s going to connect with some people. I probably just wasn't the right reader for this book. It would also be a good book for discussion, and it could even be broken down into segments and discussed both out of order, or even out of context in some instances.

Book 137 read in 2018

Pages: 320
Profile Image for Cammie.
361 reviews10 followers
May 3, 2020
The 57 Bus deals with many sensitive and important issues without sensationalizing or editorializing. Slater tells Sasha's story and Richard's story and how the two came to have a shared story.
I much preferred the chapters that focused on the people over the sections that stated facts, statistics, and data. While I understand the importance of these details in the greater picture, I appreciated the human-ness given to not only Sasha and their friends and family but also Richard and his family throughout this tragedy.
This has been on my TBR for a while, and I am glad to have finally read it.
Profile Image for Paula.
Author 2 books215 followers
January 30, 2018
100% my recommendation for any high school that does an all-school read, especially any school that implements restorative justice. The whole book is about the fallacy of binaries - boy and girl, good and bad, guilt and innocence... none of these are polar opposites.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,211 followers
December 28, 2017
Holy shit was this ever good.

Slater does a marvelous job of giving us insight into both Sasha -- the victim -- and Richard's lives, backgrounds, and stories. Why would a black boy set the skirt Sasha, who is gender nonconforming, wore, on fire? Is what he said about being homophobic true? Or was it fear which took over his 16-year-old mind and told him to say what the police would want him to say?

Even handed and compassionate at every turn, this is a powerful read and one that should spark a lot of conversation about the juvenile justice system, about race and racial profiling, and about gender.

I wasn't going to pick this one up, as it didn't seem like my kind of book (even though it is). But a Twitter friend mentioned something they'd seen in a number of the major reviews of this book: they gendered Sasha in the reviews, even though their identity is as "they/their" and it is a huge part of the story's unfolding. It's frustrating to see current mainstream "woke" media (a phrase I loathe because it's bullshit) doing precisely what the problem is. Likely worth exploring in a longer editorial.

Pair this up with Richard Ross's JUVENILE IN JUSTICE and GIRLS IN JUSTICE books.
58 reviews33 followers
June 1, 2018
This is a story of a bright gender non conforming, bright, autistic, genuine person named Sasha. This is also a story of a African-American, silly and also bright, but slightly more troubled boy named Richard. The first in a skirt, the second with a lighter, and the story that brought them up to a crime, five seconds that burnt up as quick as a flame(literally and figuratively speaking) that would change both of their lives forever, and the complicated but hopeful aftermath. Might I also add this is also very much a true story? This is a book for everyone,covers so many topics and does justice to both Sasha and Richard's side of the events beautifully. Something I highly recommend!!
Profile Image for Sarah Swann.
731 reviews988 followers
October 13, 2019
I enjoyed this book. It was incredibly informative on a case I wasn’t aware of. I enjoyed getting to know the victim and the perpetrator and what led all of these circumstances.
August 20, 2019
Wow! Simply Wow... Even though this book falls into the YA genre, this book packs a punch,,, There is much to ponder and contemplate. Though easy to read, it is not an everyday read... This book grabs you and shakes you up... It spits you out a different person....
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