The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater is a true story that follows two people, Sasha and Richard, through the events leading up to a fire on the 57 Bus in Oakland, California. Sasha lives in the wealthier part of the city with her parents. Sasha classifies themself as agender, meaning that they do not identify as any gender. Richard is an African American boy who lives in the part of Oakland where the vast majority of crime is committed, from petty theft to murder. On November 4, 2013, Sasha and Richard are riding the same bus when Richard lights Sasha’s skirt on fire leaving them with severe burns on their legs and arms. From here their lives collide and follows their trials. Sasha’s being the healing from the burns and the trials against Richard. While Richard’s are focused around the time spent in jail awaiting the trials.
Slater starts off spending time explaining each person giving about fifty pages to each of them explaining them before the fire. Sasha’s chapters are spent explaining their sexuality and how being agender is a big part of their identity as person. I found it helpful that Slater blends in a glossary for LGBTQ+ terms. I am not familiar with some of them and when they were mentioned in the book it was nice to be able to go back into Sasha’s chapters and look them up. I, admittedly, had a hard time keeping things straight with Sasha’s prefered pronouns, due to continually thinking that the author was talking about more than one person. However, as the author states early on, “it might feel awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.”(pg. 14) I indeed did by the time Sasha’s chapters ended. Sasha also has Asperger Syndrome, a form of Autism, which I’m not sure is well portrayed well, but everyone is different in how Asperger’s affects them and just because it does not reflect my experiences with someone who has Asperger’s that doesn’t meant that it is incorrect.
Richard’s chapters spend a lot of time explaining his personality and the environment that he is living in. He lives with his mom and several other family members, he sees his dad when he isn’t prison for one thing or another. Tragically, two of his extended family members were murdered in the streets during his lifetime. His grades are poor and he skips school, though he is attempting to do better.
After the fire Slater talks about a lot of different things. From was it truly a hate crime to was Richard’s sentencing influenced by race. She doesn’t put much bias here as to whether or not Richard’s sentencing was fair or not, only explaining things that could have influenced the trial. Who influenced Richard act the way he did? Should he be tried as an adult or a juvenile?
Slater’s usage of short chapters worked well in telling the narrative. It allowed for her to add in smaller interviews that she read through her writing process without it taking away from the main story. Some of these include scenes with Richard’s mother and friends and Sasha’s friends, family, and at one point the two gentlemen who helped extinguish their skirt. This allows for character development in shorter bursts and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader.
By the end I’m not sure, both characters are likable and I don’t find myself leaning one way or another. Richard seems to show regret, and Sasha is unsure what they want to happen to Richard saying “I know that he hurt me. He did something that’s really dangerous and stupid. But then again, he’s a sixteen year old kid and sixteen year old kids are kind of dumb.”(pg. 212) In the end, Slater does a remarkable job writing each of their stories using resources and keeping as true to their stories as she could with the resources that she had to use.