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The 57 Bus
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Dashka Slater
- Genre: History
- Topics: Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publishers: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: October 17, 2017
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 320
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.