The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives
On November 4, 2013, two students on their way home overlap by eight minutes while riding the 57 bus across Oakland, Calif. Sasha, a private school senior, has Asperger's syndrome, was assigned male at birth, identifies as agender (neither male nor female), uses the pronoun "they" and prefers wearing skirts. They've dozed off reading Anna Karenina for their Russian literature class.
Richard, a public school junior, stands "[a] few feet away... laughing and joking" with a cousin and friend. The threesome "goof around, play fighting." And then Richard "surreptitiously flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of [Sasha's] gauzy white skirt."
Sasha wakes in flames. Richard jumps off the bus. Sasha spends weeks enduring multiple surgeries in a San Francisco burn unit. Richard is arrested and charged as an adult for two felonies with hate-crime clauses.
In so many ways, the crime appears to be a black-and-white case of wrong vs. right. But award-winning journalist Dashka Slater--whose initial 2015 New York Times Magazine piece went viral--deconstructs easy assumptions in stringent detail, supported by such sources as video from the bus, public records and eyewitness interviews. She reveals surprising details that don't seem to make sense, including a letter to the Alameda County district attorney sent jointly from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center arguing against Richard being tried as an adult: " '...you can demonstrate your office's commitment to protecting the victims of hate crimes without imposing adult sanctions on juvenile offenders.' " Knowing what happened doesn't equate to understanding how something happened, Slater proves, as she mesmerizingly shifts this true crime into a multi-layered lesson on the healing power of humanity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon