‘The 57 Bus’ by Dashka Slater (KS4+)

The 57 Bus is an amazing book.

It really opened up my mind and helped me to understand things I had never fully understood before.

It really showed society’s mentality as a whole, and I think it’s a book that needs to be read by everyone.

Emeli, Year 11

‘The 57 Bus gives a real, unique insight into the minds of individuals and the society that we live in. The way I view many aspects of the world has changed after reading and contemplation. The content and themes are extremely relevant to present day and many of the issues reflect ones we still have. I am very glad to have read The 57 Bus and I implore anyone interested to give it a chance.’

Ihsanul, Year 10

Plot: One incident. Two perspectives, based on a true story.  Sasha is on the bus home and wakes up engulfed in flames. Richard is joking around with his friends. One day has extraordinary consequences for these two young people. One thing is for certain that they, and their families, friends and entire community is changed forever.  

Positives:  An insightful look at how people overcome obstacles to find common ground. A lesson for everyone that we have more in common than that which divides us.  

Negatives: Can raise feelings of frustration if you think justice is not served by the court system. Be prepared to channel these emotions into positive action!  

If you like this, you might like: All the Bright Places, Looking for Alaska, Leah on the Offbeat, The Black Flamingo, How it All Blew Up.

– Ms Kinghorn, MFL Faculty

“I’ve never read a book quite like this one! It tells the story in a way which is really unique and had me hooked from page one to page however-many-pages-there-are. The story and characters seem incredibly real – because they are real – and the book is all the more compelling for it. I highly recommend!”

Mr Mosley, Science Faculty

“A riveting, emotional and eye-opening story of a crime committed by Richard, a black African American. The day he sets fire to the skirt of Sasha, a white non-conforming gender teen in Oakland, California, their lives change forever. The novel follows the trial and extremely harsh sentence of Richard’s assault whilst exploring themes of sexuality, crime and race. This novel is extremely thought-provoking and highlights the importance of understanding and challenging issues surrounding gender, the judicial system and racism faced by young, black males within society today.”

Ms Chitolie, English Faculty

I found this a really thought-provoking book. What interested me most was the way in which two conflicting stories found harmony. Where we might expect animosity, they found other possibilities… I suppose, in this sense, the book gave me hope.

Ms Porter, Assistant Head Teacher

Sasha, an agender teen, and Richard, a black teen, from Oakland. Whilst both cross paths on the 57 bus, they lead very different lives, with different educational and social experiences. One day, Richard sets fire to Sasha’s skirt as a dare which causes third degree burns and Richard gets arrested.

This book is gorgeous, and if it was a piece of art it would be deemed ‘mixed media’. It is a beautiful blend of narrative, poetry, letters and instant messages. The chapters are short so can easily keep the attention of even a very distracted teen. I loved the rich history of both Sasha and Richard and how it informed their life view and actions. I also found the glossary of key terms and the focus on using the correct pronouns for Sasha very inspiring.

Whilst it focuses on the crime Richard commits, it also details the consequences, the history and statistics of juvenile criminals and the healing of the two teens.

– Ms Carter-Dunn, Humanities Faculty

 I LOVED The 57 Bus! Not only was it a wonderful depiction of human compassion, forgiveness and resilience but it taught me so much about gender identity and the juvenile legal system in the US. I particularly appreciated the narrative structure; at times it felt like a fast-paced thriller (which can feel slightly wrong when you know it’s a true story) yet the thorough research into Sasha and Richard’s lives always felt sensitive and respectful. I felt like I actually knew them both by the end. You know a book is great when you immediately start googling afterwards to find out more.

Ms Casey, English Faculty

Positives: Gave me a deeper understanding of LGBTQ+ issues, and informative statistics about youth crime in California. Such a clever way of using verbatim; it provided me with and enjoyable and entertaining read.

Negatives: I wanted to know more about Richard and Sasha’s life after.

– Ms Williams, Drama Department.

The most interesting element of this book for me was the presentation of the two main characters. Both Sasha and Richard (and arguably their families) could be perceived as victims. This was either at the hands of another or of the society and social systems that we as humans have created. However, there were many times in the book where the characters did not present themselves as victims and therefore as the reader, I also did not perceive them in this way. I viewed them as humans who showed a greater humanity than the society and systems they were part of. By creating these contrasting perceptions, the author made me reflect upon my understanding of the impact and indeed the limitation of labels. Criminal or victim or both? Sexuality or gender or neither? Something or nothing? I also really enjoyed the interleaving of the story with factual information. I think that this made the story more ‘real’ and relatable, even if the reader is not able to empathise with the characters as they haven’t personally shared the same experiences. I was tempted to add that we can sympathise with the characters but actually this would label them as the ‘victims’ that I’m not 100% comfortable perceiving them as.

Ms Hurley, Year 11 Year Leader

A profoundly moving and informative book which challenges your thinking especially in terms of binaries: guilty/innocent; illegal/legal; victim/offender; male/female and poses question after question throughout.
The lists for gender, sex, sexuality and romantic inclination and how these helped Sasha navigate the complexity of their own feelings teamed with the experiences of their parents, friends and the response of the LGBTQ+ community enabled me to understand gender fluidity and identity so much more than anything I’ve read to date.

The integration of statistics within the narrative provides uncomfortable insight into issues affecting young African American males and young offenders in general – trying teens for their crimes as adults. It highlights the institutional flaws of the juvenile justice system and the efforts of individuals and organisations to make it better through restorative justice and recovery programmes.

The nuance and sensitivity with which Slater presents a story which gained significant media coverage is impressive. The importance of tolerance, respect, empathy and forgiveness is emphasised throughout the book. The only thing missing is Richard’s own voice other than his heart rendering letters but it’s clear why this is so.

– Ms Harrison, English Faculty

There are two kinds of people in the world.
Just two.
Just two.
Only two.

This moving book demolishes the idea that there are ‘only two’ whether it’s victim or villain, black or white, Cis or Trans. Based on true events, it explores gender, race and the criminal justice system, and how the lives of two teenagers become connected by a single, shocking and life changing event. The book skilfully weaves the personal stories of the two main characters, Sasha and Richard, with lots of factual information. There are other figures who also stood out and whose stories moved me, Kaprice Wilson, the school counsellor/mentor, for example. And the older women who turn up to all Richard’s court hearings.

I found it compelling reading and was impressed by the compassion and humanity of the story telling. I’d highly recommend it.

Ms O’Sullivan, Enrichment Manager – Engagement