The 57 Bus - Dashka Slater

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.

Told in the style of a documentary film, The 57 Bus tells an incredible and heartbreaking real-life story of one teenager trying to simply exist as themself and another thinking he was simply playing a joke. But when Richard's joke goes wrong and Sasha ends up engulfed in flames with burns over 22% of their body, the novels moves from a sensationalized re-telling of real life to a full examination of the criminal justice system in America, particularly the ways in which the law has come to prosecute young people as adults.

Though I do feel that some of the earlier portions of the novel (particularly those around gender/sexual labels and identity) felt somewhat overly didactic, along the lines of encyclopedia entries. I understand that this was done in a likely effort to mimic the form of a documentary, and to give background information, however I do wonder about how teen readers will embrace this style.

This is an intense book, and one that opens up a LOT of questions which I hope will get young people thinking about race, incarceration, genderqueer identities, the legal system, and what it means to make a mistake. Slater's writing is, overall, engaging and I am impressed with the way that Slater manages to discuss the incident from both sides without an abundance of bias in either direction. 

A strong addition to any school library, public library, or teen's home book collection! Recommended

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Oct. 17, 2017)


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