Slater, CD. (2017). The 57 Bus. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 57 Bus reads along like a fictional story. You meet characters, learn about their lives, and begin to root for these teens because they’re all good kids. But one wrong, spur of the moment decision, and now this story has become tragedy of sorts. The setting is Oakland, California, where there is a huge disparity of wealth, but it’s also one of the more progressively-minded cities in the States. As the city bus criss-crossed different pockets of Oakland, two teen-agers overlapped paths on their ride home from school everyday for a short eight minutes. Robert and his buddies are black and are from a crime-ridden neighbourhood; Sasha is white, attends a private school, and identifies as agender – neither male nor female. Fooling around, the teens egg on Robert to light the edge of Sasha’s skirt on fire as he sleeps. The material catches on the fourth try. Robert and his friends jump off the bus and turn around to the see the doors closing and Sacha’s skirt erupting in a ball of flames. They ended up with second and third degree burns.
The 57 Bus is a true story. The author elaborates on her 2015 New York Times Magazine article, compiling a book full of interviews, social media posts, surveillance, terms for sexual orientation, public records, and statistics on Oakland, all to round out the picture. Who was Richard? Was this a tragedy? Is it also a victory? These two boys were thrust into the international spotlight to figure out these questions for themselves.