The 57 Bus: A True Story Of Two Teenagers And The Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater

The Blurb On The Back:

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, Richard and Sasha would never have met.  Although they live in the same city, they are from radically different worlds.  But one single reckless act changes both of their lives forever.

What happens next is a story of race and discrimination, but also of recovery, reconciliation and hope.  It’s about the good and bad in all of us, and how your whole life can change in the time it takes to flick a cigarette lighter.

And remarkably, it’s all true.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

16-year-old Richard and 17-year-old Sasha both lived in Oakland, California but came from very different backgrounds.

Sasha had Asperger’s, a gift for maths, physics and linguistics, two loving parents and equally loving friends who supported them when they revealed that they were agender, gray-cupiosexual and quiromantic. They attended one of the best schools in the city and had a glittering academic future in front of them.

Richard came from a poorer background, living with his mum (who had him when she was only 15), stepdad and two cousins (who moved in with them when their mum was murdered).  He attended an okay high school where his grades weren’t great and he was in and out of trouble, including serving a year in juvie.

Ordinarily Sash and Richard would never met.  But on 4thNovember 2013, they were each on the number 57 bus and Richard – in what he said was a prank gone wrong – set fire to Sasha’s skirt, leaving them with serious burns and changing both their and Richard’s lives forever.

Dashka Slater’s non-fiction YA is an astounding piece of writing that displays great empathy to both Sasha and Richard and their families without flinching from the seriousness of what happened and giving context to their lives up to and after the attack while explaining concepts of sexuality and gender in a helpful and easy to understand way.  This is one of my favourite books of 2018 and I will definitely check out Slater’s other work.

Slater is never less than completely respectful to each of Sasha and Richard and to their stories and by doing so, she fully brings out what a tragedy this was for each of them.  It would be remarkably easy to vilify Richard for what he did but Slater gives him context while also revealing (without editorialising) how stacked the justice system is against African Americans as she reveals the experiences and tragedies of both him and his friends.

I really enjoyed how Slater reveals Sasha’s journey to realise their gender and sexual preferences and there’s a really good guide in this book to the different terms used within the LGBTQ+ community and what they mean.  Some of my favourite parts of the book are the scenes where Slater reveals Sasha’s relationship with their friends and their discussions and support for each other in their respective journeys and realisations.

Slater’s account of the event itself is unsentimental, which makes it even more horrifying.  What makes the book outstanding though is how she recounts the aftermath and for me, the account of Richard’s experience in the justice system and his attempt to make amends is incredibly moving and I was genuinely in tears towards the end of it.  This isn’t to say that she tries to make what happened sound okay or that Richard was a victim of circumstance – indeed she emphasises how this was a conscious decision, albeit one that showed incredibly poor judgment – but she shows his upbringing and his life experiences (particularly the effect on him of the deaths of two of his aunts and two of his friends) so that you can completely see why he got to that point and what led him to make that awful decision.

I thought this was an incredibly good book – fascinating, human and chock-filled with empathy and while it’s targeted at a YA audience, it’s a book that I think a lot of grown-ups would benefit from reading. It’s one of my standout reads for 2018 and I will definitely be checking out Slater’s other work on the back of it.  </lj-cut>

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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