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, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language, Discrimination, Racial slur, Graphic description of recovery from burns, Detailed description of a hate crime
Booklist (September 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 2))
Grades 7-12. Slater handles the sensitive subject matter of adolescence, hate crimes, the juvenile justice system, and the intersection of race and class with exemplary grace and emotional connection. Sasha, a genderqueer teen riding the 57 bus, was asleep when Richard Thomas, an African American teen, decided to play a prank by playing with a lighter by her skirt. But the skirt caught fire. Sasha spent grueling amounts of time in a hospital burn unit, and Richard spent the rest of his high-school career mired in a long trial and awaiting sentencing. In this true-crime tale, Slater excels at painting a humanistic view of both Sasha and Richard, especially in the aftermath of the crime. Readers will enjoy that Sasha’s life is completely developed, while other readers may have a few unresolved questions surrounding Richard’s upbringing. Ultimately, this book will give readers a better understanding of gender nonbinary people and a deep empathy for how one rash action can irrevocably change lives forever.
Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2017)
In the fall of 2013, on a bus ride home, a young man sets another student on fire.In a small private high school, Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, enjoyed “a tight circle of friends,” “blazed through calculus, linguistics, physics, and computer programming,” and invented languages. Sasha didn’t fall into a neat gender category and considered “the place in-between…a real place.” Encouraged by parents who supported self-expression, Sasha began to use the pronoun they. They wore a skirt for the first time during their school’s annual cross-dressing day and began to identify as genderqueer. On the other side of Oakland, California, Richard, a black teen, was “always goofing around” at a high school where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Within a few short years, his closest friends would be pregnant, in jail, or shot dead, but Richard tried to stay out of real trouble. One fateful day, Sasha was asleep in a “gauzy white skirt” on the 57 bus when a rowdy friend handed Richard a lighter. With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness. (Nonfiction. 14-18)
About the Author
Dashka Slater has written many books, including Baby Shoes, The Sea Serpent and Me, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Escargot, and Dangerously Ever After. She is also an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones.
She lives in California. Her website is www.dashkaslater.com
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