WOW! This is a book that will change your life! A teenager falls asleep on the bus and wakes up to find that their skirt has been set on fire. Before the fire can be extinguished, they suffer third degree burns over approximately 22% of their body, primarily on their legs.
The 57 Bus tells the true story of Sasha and Richard, who both grew up in Oakland, California. Author Dashka Slater skillfully shares their stories in a way that will have you staying up throughout the night to keep reading. Unlike many non-fiction books I’ve read, where there is a distance between the subjects of the book and the reader, it was easy to get lost in the world of 2013 Oakland.
Following a brief preview of what is to come on the 57 Bus, Ms. Slater introduces us to Sasha. In November 2013, Sasha was in their senior year of high school at a small private school. After years of questioning their gender, Sasha had told their parents in the winter of 2012 that they identified as genderqueer. Sasha is agender—neither male nor female—and prefers the use of “they” and “their” as opposed to “he,” “she,” “his,” or “hers.”
Once Sasha had clarified their gender identity, they selected a new name and asked their parents and close friends to call them Sasha instead of Luke. They began wearing a skirt along with their already eclectic outfit of top hat (or other hat), tweeds, vests, bowties, and sometimes even fighter-pilot goggles.
Ms. Slater takes great care to make the readers fall in love with Sasha, then switches to the story of Richard. Richard was with his cousin and a friend when he got on the 57 Bus on November 4, 2013. Richard’s friend gave Richard a lighter, and encouraged him to light Sasha’s skirt on fire. Richard did it.
Knowing what Richard did to Sasha, and having already spent 1/4 of the book growing to love Sasha, it was a shock to meet Richard. I wanted to dislike Richard. But Ms. Slater expertly brings us within Richard’s world.
Richard’s mom was fourteen when she had him. She had big dreams for her son. And he was determined to make them happen. He had been in trouble, but unlike many kids who got in trouble, he wanted to escape trouble and graduate from high school.
Richard attended Oakland High School, which was not the best school in Oakland, but was not the worst either. There was a security guard posted at the front gate. Richard reached out to Oakland High’s attendance compliance officer and asked to join her intervention program to be sure he could complete his goals. Richard was special. He was funny. He made people laugh and played games and practical jokes. This event shocked all who knew him.
Even if you are not typically a non-fiction book reader, I highly recommend this book. It reads like a work of fiction, and a fascinating one at that!
Author Dashka Slater is a journalist, novelist, and children’s book author. She has written six children’s books, including Escargot and The Antlered Ship. Her website, www.dashkaslater.com, has many resources, including teacher’s guides for some of her children’s books, and discussion questions for The 57 Bus.
Have you read any great books lately?