The 57 Bus

Book review by
Rachel Sarah, Common Sense Media
The 57 Bus Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
True story of teens' fateful encounter and its aftermath.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 15 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The 57 Bus explores race, class, gender, incarceration, and identity. It details life from two very different parts of Oakland, California, and two very different families. Sasha is a white straight-A student at a small private school in Berkeley and is agender, meaning they do not identify as male or female. Richard, who's African-American, attends public school and has lost many loved ones to murder. 

Positive Messages

When life is hard, lean on your friends, your family, your teachers. We all hurt and make mistakes. Most of all, forgive. And have compassion for others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This story details a horrible crime, but the love shown by parents, friends, teachers, and mentors here is remarkable. The grown-ups illustrate how crucial it is to learn from your mistakes, forgive, and make amends. 


Richard's past in crime-plagued Oakland is detailed: Two of his aunts were slain before he was a teenager; his best friend was shot and killed while sitting in a parking lot; a week before the incident on the 57 bus, Thomas was robbed at gunpoint. Graphic scene in which Richard lights the sleeping Sasha's skirt on fire, and the resulting blaze that leaves third-degree burns over 22 percent of Sasha's body. 


Mention of more than one teen pregnancy, including Richard's mom's. She had him when she was 14. No sexually descriptive scenes.


Conversational swearing by teens throughout, including "s--t," "f--k," "ass," "bitch," "damn" (and variants), and "nigga," though it doesn't seem excessive. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mentions of drug dealing in Oakland and drug searches by prison guards, as well as a friend posting "a photo of himself with a bottle of cognac and a bottle of cough syrup."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives is a compelling, sometimes emotional nonfiction story of a 2013 assault in Oakland, California, when an African American public school teen boy named Richard set fire to a sleeping, gender-nonconforming white private school teen named Sasha on that bus. The book includes an intense, scary scene in which Richard lights Sasha's skirt and Sasha is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. The story follows the subsequent trial and punishment, and there are descriptions of Richard's past, including family and friends who were murdered. Much of the violence is revealed in flashback and not graphically described. Parents should be ready to discuss what it means to be a gender-nonconforming teen and what life is like for a teen in prison. Conversational swearing includes "s--t" and "f--k." The story is thought-provoking and provides great discussion points about gender, the criminal justice system, and empathy for others. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11 and 13-year-old Written byChrisssy3 February 4, 2020


This books make people think. Students often get the message that just because something happened, doesn’t mean we are to talk about it. A true story of an even... Continue reading
Adult Written byJLOlson August 9, 2019

Amazing book

I would highly recommend this book to any high school level reader (or kid with high school level of maturity). The book provides incredible insight into the l... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymacy_davis March 18, 2018

Must read book

this book is an amazing book!! It goes off and on from 2 different teenagers who both are struggling in ways. I choose to read this book because the title and t... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byNmoney24 September 17, 2019


Honestly didn't get the hype.... it may require a conversation with readers to grasp a further concept, but really it wasn't an amazing book

What's the story?

This nonfiction account is based on the New York Times Magazine story that journalist, novelist, and children's author Dashka Slater wrote about a 2013 assault that occurred when two teens were riding home from school on THE 57 BUS in Oakland, California. While one teen, Sasha, who appeared male but was wearing a skirt, slept, 16-year-old Richard -- egged on by friends -- lit the sleeping Sasha's skirt on fire. The fire left third-degree burns over 22 percent of Sasha's body. Richard was charged as an adult with two hate crimes and faced life in prison. The story is divided into four parts -- "Sasha," "Richard," "The Fire," and "Justice" -- in which Slater deeply explores the lives of these two teens, their pasts, their friends and families, and the events that led to that fateful day on the bus. 

Is it any good?

Heartbreaking but infused with compassion, this true story is riveting. The short, compelling chapters of The 57 Bus peel back issues of race, class, and gender in a subtle, empathic way. The writing is intense and insightful, and the reader comes away more aware and feeling more compassion for both teens. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The 57 Bus deals with growing up agender, which means not identifying with a specific gender. Why does society sometimes ridicule and hurt nonconforming people? Have you read any other books about someone who's gender-nonconforming? Did this story make you feel more empathy?

  • How do you talk about race with friends and family? How do you deal with friends who tell racist, homophobic, and otherwise offensive jokes? What about family members who say inappropriate things?

  • What are your thoughts about the U.S. criminal justice system after reading The 57 Bus

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love social justice stories and LGBTQ books

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