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Saturday, October 14, 2017

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

This is a powerful, horrifying, important true story that everyone—not just teenagers—should read.

Two high school students were on a city bus in Oakland, heading home. Sasha, who is agender and prefers the pronoun "they," was napping. Richard, an African-American boy from public school, was messing around with a couple of friends. One boy dared him to set Sasha's skirt on fire, which he did. Stupid, absolutely. But he had no idea that some fabrics would whoosh up into a ball of flame as if Sasha had been dowsed in gasoline (he had thought it would be a small little fire that Sasha would pat out with their hands, and then be mad at Richard, but that would be the end of it.) Sasha was very badly burned and Richard was brought up on hate crimes charges, facing life in prison.

Ms. Slater does an excellent job of fully telling both sides of the story, who Sasha and Richard truly were, what their backgrounds were, how they grew up, and how they both came to be on that bus that fateful afternoon. She is non-judgmental and has empathy for everyone involved. Like the books The Other Wes Moore and The Short Tragic Life of Robert Peace, this book shows how sometimes it's a fine line, a single small thing, that can turn someone's life completely upside down for the worse. I'm not excusing Richard's behavior at all but it wasn't maliciously intended—it was meant to be a (very, very stupid) prank.

Everyone should read this powerful and amazing book. It is being published as a young adult book, but all adults ought to read it as well. It's beautifully written, compelling and page-turning, as Ms. Slater had great access to everyone involved. I even think this should be (and will be) taught in schools. Teenagers, without fully developed frontal cortexes, don't always foresee the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences can be devastating.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I got this book for free from my work because it is published by Macmillan, my employer.

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