Many of the books I read are written for young adults. These include lots of realistic fiction, some fantasy and adventure titles, as well as the occasional nonfiction title. A new box of books arrived the other day in my library – something which still excites even after more than two decades on the job, and I helped myself to a couple of new titles, including The 57 Bus a nonfiction book by Dashka Slater.
You know when you’re reading a book and you find yourself thinking and even talking about it? Well, this is that kind of book. Slater deftly tells the story of two very different teenagers who ride the same city bus for a life changing 8 minutes. She tells the story in brief chapters, a technique I found very effective and one that helps makes the facts related more easily digested. One afternoon on the bus an event occurs during that shared ride which impacts both of their lives, an event which began as a simple prank yet grew to become an incident defined by some as a hate crime.
Oakland, California is a diverse city of 400,000 residents with a wide range of economic levels represented. It has, at times, been cited as the most violent city in America with gangs and guns present in many neighborhoods of the city’s nearly 80 square miles. Oakland was the home of both Sasha and Richard.
Sasha, a teenager who identifies as agender and has been diagnosed with Asperger’s, is an intelligent young person with a supportive family and a solid group of friends They (the pronoun they use for themself) attend an alternative high school, wear garments that are typical for both males and females, and are committed to living a life which feels reflective on the exterior of what they are experiencing on the inside.
Richard is a black teenager being raised by his young mom and stepfather in a stable family in a struggling neighborhood. Although he gets into some legal trouble as a juvenile, he is essentially a typical, unmotivated high school boy in an urban school district. The reckless act Richard commits against Sasha is unspeakably horrific, yet not premeditated or truly intended and he in many ways ends up just as scarred as they do.
Reading about the encounter between Sasha and Richard left me breathless and with an aching heart. This is a powerful story that will stay with readers. Read this.