Monday, July 09, 2018

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

Two teens, each a member of an often mistreated minority, had a fateful encounter on a bus in Oakland, California, in 2013. Sasha, from a middle class, white family, identifies as agender and is on the Asperger spectrum, and at the time attended a private school. Richard, only child of a black, single parent mother, attended Oakland High School. As Sasha napped on the bus, Richard was egged on by other boys to flick a lighter to Sasha’s skirt. The skirt was unexpectedly flammable and Sasha was severely burned. 
Journalist Slater created a narrative from interviews, documents, and personal impressions. She challenges readers to think about the intersection of criminal justice and the teenage brain, sometimes called the school-to-prison-pipeline. Justice has been pictured as a balancing of scales, of punishment equal to harm committed. A hate crime designation compounds punishment because of the motive for the act. Restorative justice focuses on the healing of relationships, strengthening community, and learning to make better choices. 
More subtly, this true story can be used to provoke thought about the various kinds of privilege and discrimination in our society. Sasha’s father tells a judge, “Sasha would not have been a target if Sasha had been wearing jeans.”  And yet, the reader might well wonder how a white teenager would have been charged if a prank had injured a transgender teen. 
The 57 Bus well deserved the 2018 Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. Other books for teens that raise similar questions include The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Monster by Walter Dean Myers.

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL


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