Wednesday, June 07, 2023

YA Nonfiction Review: The 57 Bus

A good friend of mine from high school who now teaches high school English recommended I read The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater when it was first released in 2017. Now I realize why she was so enthusiastic about this unique, eye-opening book. It details the true story of how the lives of two teens intersected for a few minutes on a city bus that changed both of their lives.

Sasha is an agender white teen living in Oakland, CA. They attend a small, private school that is very supportive of teens like them who don't fit it into the neat boxes society tends to place people in. Sasha's parents are also very supportive of their choices, having watched their development from a child to an older teen and seen how thoughtfully those choices were made, based on deep feelings. Sasha has plenty of friends who are self-described nerds, and their school fosters creativity, like the silly card game they've invented together. Sasha has a unique sense of style, often wearing a vest and bow tie with a ballerina skirt to school. She rides the 57 bus home.

Richard also rides the 57 bus home from his large public school in Oakland. Richard is Black with a single mother. He and his mom are close, and Richard is generally a good kid, with the kind of humor and goofiness present in many teen boys. Given where he lives and goes to school, though, he's been exposed to a lot more violence and drug use and other societal issues than Sasha, though he generally stays out of trouble. One day on the bus, spurred on by other acquaintances nearby, Richard flicks a lighter someone handed him to Sasha's skirt. To his surprise, it quickly goes up in flames, and Sasha is severely injured. Sasha spends months in the hospital recovering, while Richard heads to juvie and begins his journey through the judicial system. Because the police who interview him for hours without an adult present pressure him to say he's homophobic, he's charged with two hate crimes and faces life in prison.

In an instant, these two teens' lives were changed, and it is easy to simply identify one as the victim and the other as the bad guy. But author Slater helps the reader understand the intricate nuances of this tragic story, taking us deep inside both teens' lives and relationships with friends and family. This book also takes a close look at the failings of our judicial system. One thoughtless moment of goofing around became a life-changing moment for both teens, and this award-winning book that delves into issues of race, class, and gender makes us think deeply about the incident and its aftermath. It's a book that should be required reading for adults as well as teens, and it was excellent on audio.

320 pages, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Recorded Books

I got this book from Sync several years ago, which offers two free audio books each week during the summer.

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:


Nonfiction Reader Challenge - Crime and Punishment

Diversity Challenge


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  1. I loved this book and think it was written with sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and strength. I kept forgetting it was nonfiction since it read like a novel.

    1. I thought it was a novel when I first heard about it. I agree - such a powerful story and well-told.

  2. I read this several years ago and just didn't find the ability to connect as I should have. I found myself confused by the pronoun useage for one thing. I wonder if I'd be better on that score now that I'm a bit more used to it now.

    1. Interesting, Anne. I wonder if listening to it on audio made it more immersive for me. I was a bit confused in the beginning, as it skipped around from one character to another, but as the story started to come together, it all made sense.

  3. Here is my review, if you want to peek at it: