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The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
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Previous Reads: Non-Fiction > The 57 Bus, Dashka Slater

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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Thread for our September True Crime read - The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus (goodreads blurb)
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.

Dashka Slater (from her website)
Journalist, novelist, and children's book author Dashka Slater has been telling stories since she could talk. Her novel for adults, The Wishing Box, was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, while her journalism honors include a gold Azbee, two Maggies, and a Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newspapers, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the California State Bar, and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. She is a former “Who Made That” columnist for the New York Times Magazine and has written on topics ranging from competitive jousting to criminal justice.

Laurie will be leading discussion on this book


Laurie | 11 comments Louise, thanks for creating the thread.

Here are some reviews in case anyone is interested.

https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re...
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/01/ma...
http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2...
https://www.teenreads.com/reviews/the...

I considered breaking this book into four sections to read and discuss each week. I decided against that because I think it is easier to read at your own pace. So we can simply discuss as we progress and use the spoiler tags if necessary. I have some study guide questions that I will post periodically.

I hope people in our group will read this as it brings up issues that are current and controversial. The victim of the crime, Sasha, is agender and the attack highlighted crime against individuals who are nonbinary.


message 3: by Wim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wim | 3 comments Hello Laurie,

It was a good choice not to break up in sections, because it would be hard to wait a week before starting the next!

I just finished the book in 2 days which was much faster than I intended. It was already on my reading list, but this group read pushed me to actually start it.

And wow, I am truly impressed and touched by this real life story. It is not just a beautiful story, but rather an impressive piece of investigation journalism, and a pamphlet for LGBTQ rights, for more empathy, less stereotypical thinking, for giving young criminal offenders more chances to start again.

The book gives a powerful message of love, tolerance and empathy. The main characters are such “beautiful” people, as is stated somewhere in the book, and push us to give up thinking in binary terms, good vs. bad, boy vs. girl, homosexual vs. heterosexual, black vs. white, etc.


Laurie | 11 comments Wim wrote: "Hello Laurie,

It was a good choice not to break up in sections, because it would be hard to wait a week before starting the next!

I just finished the book in 2 days which was much faster than I i..."


Wim, I'm glad you liked it. I haven't gotten very far in it but I can see how it may be a quick read. I read that Slater tried to be even-handed in her examination of the crime, the motive behind it and the ensuing trial of a juvenile tried as an adult. She chose not to vilify Richard and make this a good vs evil portrayal. I look forward to finishing and seeing how I rate it.


message 5: by Wim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wim | 3 comments Laurie wrote: "She chose not to vilify Richard and make this a good vs evil portrayal."

She definitely succeeded in making me as reader sympathize with Richard and shows how the crime on the bus was somehow also an accident.

Thanks for the links to the reviews, Laurie. The NY Times article is not a review, but actually the article that Slater wrote before starting the book.

The 57 Bus is really an eyeopener on gender and sexual identities. By coincidence, I read it just after having finished Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine, a feminist science book on the biological basis of sex, stating clearly that the binary division between sexes and associated roles and behavior is above all culturally determined. Reading The 57 Bus makes you realize how gender stereotypes imprison people and how a more open way of seeing gender and sexual identities can free all of us.

Of course we still have a long way to go. Only last week, a popular politician back home asked on twitter where the "normal men" had gone, criticizing sexy male underwear and makeup... things that "real" men like himself would never wear.


message 6: by Laurie (last edited Sep 03, 2018 04:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laurie | 11 comments I finished this book today, and I completely agree with Wim that it a wonderful examination of the crime and the people involved. I am quite impressed with the job Slater did of being objective and stating each side with equal compassion. It is clear she wants to highlight the difficulties that the various groups have which were involved: nontraditional genders, juvenile offenders of violent crimes, and minorities from poor neighborhoods. She gave statistics showing how various groups are discriminated against, but she did not overwhelm the reader with a bunch of numbers. This book emphasizes the human in the human interest story rather than being overly clinical.

I appreciated the definitions of the terms of gender and sex, and sexuality, and romantic inclination that she included. There are terms I have never heard of before. And she is clear to state that language evolves so one should always adopt the term and pronoun that someone choses for themselves.

This book is intended to speak to a YA audience, and I think it would be a great resource for opening a conversation with teenagers about gender identity and the need for respect. Additionally it would open a discussion about how a prank can go wrong and have extremely serious consequences.

Wim, you are correct that the NYT article is not a review, but the article Slater wrote before the book. I didn't read it before I posted it since I don't like to read reviews before reading a book. Since the article is just a short version of the book, I am glad I didn't read it first.

I found an interview with the author about why she chose to write the book.
https://www.motherjones.com/crime-jus...


Laurie | 11 comments One of the study questions I mentioned before that interests me is: Some people believe that only the deeds should be against the law and motive shouldn't matter. Others argue that hate crimes are worse than other crimes because whole groups may be affected by fear. Should hate crimes be prosecuted and why or why not?


Laurie | 11 comments Kristin wrote: "I'm really looking forward to reading this book. The topic seems incredibly complex and current. On a side note, my local bus line is also the 57 bus, but in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. When I firs..."

I'm glad you will be joining the discussion and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It would be a little weird to ride the same bus number, even in another city. It probably will make this somewhat more real to you.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
Laurie wrote: "One of the study questions I mentioned before that interests me is: Some people believe that only the deeds should be against the law and motive shouldn't matter. Others argue that hate crimes are ..."

I hesitate to get too deep into the topic of hate crime laws because the discussion can so easily head off the rails into our typical American binary categorization of individual's politics, but here goes. I'm a lawyer (not criminal law), and it's a topic about which I've given a great deal of thought and I oppose hate crime laws because I concluded (a) they don't pass Constitutional muster, and (b) they are and will continue to be used against persons and communities of color in ways their supporters would not have envisioned or wanted. It's not that motive doesn't matter; it's that it's too easy for the government to charge a person for having a bad motive, and I fear for poor defendants in our justice system who can't afford to take over-charging DAs to trial. Conduct is objective. Motive is subjective. But enough of my views.

I searched around for well-written, straightforward pro and con essays that articulate the opposing viewpoints and focus on the policy rationales.

Pro-hate crime laws
https://www.dissentmagazine.org/artic...

Impliedly in support- expanding hate crime laws to include LGBTQ hate

https://www.lgbtmap.org/file/talking-...

Anti-hate crime laws:

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-...

http://www.latimes.com/news/la-op-mcg...


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
@Laurie, the reviews you shared are excellent. Between those and the comments to-date, this has become a wonderful, thought-provoking thread. I'm so glad 57 Bus won the poll.


Laurie | 11 comments Carol, thank you for your opinion on hate crime laws. I haven't given the matter thought before. I will take a look at the links and give the answer some consideration. It's interesting to me that you think they are used against people of color when one would think that those are the groups the laws are meant to protect.

The great thing about this book is the story is that it contains lots of important ideas to be considered. Slater wanted to bring a story to young people that would make them ponder the ideas such as gender and juvenile justice, but it is all of us who need to give these issues consideration.


Laurie | 11 comments @Carol, I am glad the book won the poll too. I looked back and saw that you nominated it the first time, so we have you to thank for bringing it to my attention. Excellent choice.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
Laurie wrote: "@Carol, I am glad the book won the poll too. I looked back and saw that you nominated it the first time, so we have you to thank for bringing it to my attention. Excellent choice."

:)


message 14: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It was an excellent choice.


Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1034 comments Mod
Starting today. I'm intrigued at the idea of the author managing to present the story with compassion towards everyone affected, in both sides of the incident.


Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1034 comments Mod
I couldn't put it down and finished it last night O.o
I have to agree with all comments above: Excellent choice.

The final statistics on juvenile detention centers had me feeling quite optimistic for our country's youth. It seems like things are headed in the right direction with sentencing and punishment. Although the concerning thought that maybe more are being sent to adult centers did cross my mind, and the racial proportion on those statistics is still horrible of course.


Laurie | 11 comments Anita, I am glad you enjoyed it. I found the statistics on the number of juveniles in detention a positive change as well. I am curious if other states have a corresponding decrease in numbers or if California is making strides that other states need to follow.While the numbers aren't good and the racial bias is clear, it is nice to know that improvements can be made even as the prison system in the US becomes more profitable and, therefore, more crowded.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
I started it today and the pages are flying by. Slater is an excellent feature writer and it shows here, from the definitions of various categories of identification to her organization of topics to the way she introduces the characters so you empathize with every one. This is just excellent.


Laurie | 11 comments Slater does write quite well. Her ability to present the facts without sounding judgmental about anyone is evidence of her skill as a journalist. I'm glad you are enjoying it.


message 20: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent book.


message 21: by Laurie (last edited Sep 25, 2018 08:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Laurie | 11 comments Kristin wrote: "I very much enjoyed reading this book. I felt I learned a lot from it, but am struggling to find anything useful to contribute to the discussion. Perhaps it is because I am still processing it.

I..."

Your comments are useful, so thank you for giving us your thoughts. I agree that Slater is successful in her attempt to treat both sides with tremendous empathy. Since the book's target reader is YA, I think she wanted to make an impression that there are two sides to this story and they both deserve consideration. Young people reading about Richard need to understand that his life has value even though he committed a terrible crime, and Sasha has value even though they identify as agender which is outside the norm for many readers. Richard and Sasha are people, not statistics and not simply a story in the news. Slater did a great job of humanizing both young men.


message 22: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments This is an excellent book to read.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
I finished a moment ago and aim so glad we selected this book to read. I learned so much about non-binary persons, about CalifornIa’s juvie system, and Slater’s choices of how to tell her story, how many facts about the justice system and process, generally, to present, we’re just right and resulted in a compelling read. I will keep her on my short list of nonfiction authors to follow.

I recall a study the results of which were released a couple of months ago. It revealed that male journalists and other men in the media active on Twitter and other platforms shared and promoted the content of male colleagues far more than content uploaded by female colleagues. As a result, too 100 lists of influencers and thought leaders on various topics were skewed heavily toward men. Before that, I had made an effort to promote female journalists’ content but not one I tracked or thought about. Going forward, however, I have been reading and sharing more intentionally nonfiction written by women, and I follow, read and retweet content of women journalists with intentionality. I may even write more reviews for women-authored nonfiction in 2019. It’s such a small thing, but who knows what the collective impact could be.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
My IRL book club also read this book this month, and today was our meetup.

One reader had a great point. She was angry that there wasn't any sort of afterward with a call to action or something demanding of the reader more than enjoyment of new knowledge. She likened it to the movie Crash from a few years back. The audience gets to leave at the end of the movie, going back to their comfortable lives and patting themselves on the back for being woke. When this book ends, all of us readers get to have read a dynamic book that shows us gaps in the juvenile justice system, racial disparities in DA's choices to try minors as adults, fallacies in approaching the world in a binary fashion, etc. , but we aren't challenged directly by the author to do anything to make anything described in the book better.

Did Slater miss an opportunity to do more than educate each reader? Was the lack of an epilogue or author's note challenging us to read more, take action, explore alternative resolution strategies versus traditional punishment or reporting of sexual harrassment or inappropriate touching, just as examples, a problem for you as a reader?


message 25: by Liesl (new)

Liesl | 514 comments Carol wrote: "My IRL book club also read this book this month, and today was our meetup.

One reader had a great point. She was angry that there wasn't any sort of afterward with a call to action or something de..."


Sorry, I didn't read this book but have been following the lively thread. With respect to this post I just wanted to add that all good literature should provoke us to think about the world that we live in and lead us to question how we can make it a better place. I don't think it is up to the author to add an epilogue with action points. That seems to just make an excuse for us as readers not to engage with and act upon the themes we encounter unless we are lead to do so.


message 26: by Carol (last edited Oct 04, 2018 04:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2319 comments Mod
Liesl wrote: "Carol wrote: "My IRL book club also read this book this month, and today was our meetup.

One reader had a great point. She was angry that there wasn't any sort of afterward with a call to action o..."


Liesl, I agree that it isn’t an obligation, but I so often encounter afterward resources in my admittedly progressive-leaning nonfiction books that I admit to being surprised that Slater didn’t choose to provide a couple of links or suggest groups advocating for changes to our juvenile justice system or groups that advocate for education and acknowledgement of agender teens. Your point is well taken, in any event.


message 27: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments It is an excellent book.


Anita (anitafajitapitareada) | 1034 comments Mod
Just reading this book has sparked conversation in my home to both issues of self identity and social and systematic prejudices. So, in a way she did call on us for more because any social change starts with self and at home.

I guess it could go either way, but I don't personally begrudge the author for omitting an afterword for activism, though she also could have offered some things like you mentioned.


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