Tuesday, May 1, 2018

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

As the title says, this is a nonfiction book.  In 2013 a non-binary teen named Sasha was riding home from school when an African-American boy named Richard set fire to Sasha's skirt resulting in second and third burns.  Richard was charged with a hate crime and faced being tried as an adult.  This book tells the stories of both teens up to the point of the crime and the effects on both of them afterwards.  Although the two sentence description of what happened seems clear cut, there is much more to be known about both Sasha and Richard and their families than you think at first.

I read through this book very quickly and found myself thinking about it after.  I believe we are supposed to feel some sympathy for Richard who comes from a relatively tough background but I wasn't feeling sympathetic at all for much of the book, especially when he tells the police that he's homophobic.  As his time in jail went on, however, I did begin to feel his pain and definitely the injustice of sending a teen to prison with adults.  And having worked with teens for 14 years, I know that they do a lot of stupid stuff with no thought of the consequences so I don't believe that Richard had thought clearly about what he was doing or what might result.  It also became clear that Sasha lives in a completely different world from Richard and one that is very insulated from day-to-day reality for a non cisgendered person so they are also not thinking about how much of society will react to their adornment - even though they ought to be able to dress however they'd like.  Slater manages to convey all of these complexities throughout the book but I do have issues with her writing style which is quite dramatic and pretentious.  And who are the three ladies present in court every time Richard appears?  Why bring them up if they're not going to be introduced?  If the story itself were not so compelling, I don't know that this book would be as highly praised as it is.

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