“It’s over in seconds. The driver pulls the bus to the curb. Sasha scrambles to a sitting position, dazed and in shock. Oh lord. Fuck.”
The 57 Bus is a true account of a teenager being set on fire by another teenager. Richard was given a lighter by a friend. Sasha was minding their own business with a book open on their lap. Sasha was born a male but does not identify as either gender and uses the pronouns they. Sasha was wearing a skirt. The skirt is the instigator behind the fire. The boys behind the incident didn’t think the skirt would ignite like it did. Sasha didn’t see it coming. Third degree burns followed. Recovery was slow. Richard was incarcerated and tried as an adult. This is their story, and the story of their friends and family.
There is so much going in this book, that you must pause and consider how you feel about a range of topics. It’s controversial. It dives deep into new social customs. It hits on terms for gender and sex, statistics for juvenile offenders, how many people are being shot each year, how schools handle discipline and how individuals choose to identify themselves. Call me naïve, but I didn’t know that people used different pronouns to identify themselves. I didn’t know that there were more than three ways to describe your romantic inclinations, or that restorative circles were being used widely in the California education system. This is the type of discipline we are implementing in my own school, so it was interesting to read about their take on it. Gender neutrality has achieved major milestones in recent years, but this book has been my only solid news coverage. As Sasha said, “How is this a thing that happens…?
After you absorb all that information, then you must begin thinking about sides. Should Richard be charged as an adult? Should his friends have gotten off free? Do youth correctional facilities really rehabilitate instead of lead to more incarceration? Should you forgive someone who has caused you so much pain? Can you move on from terrible tragedies?
Most importantly, the part that hit me was the account of the events from both sides of parents. Richard’s mother just wanted a better life for her son. She didn’t believe him capable of his actions. Sasha’s parents do not want discrimination to rule their life. They try to promote acceptance and individuality for their child. They worried that Sasha would be a target and their worries came true.
I highly recommend this one to anyone that wants to ask themselves how they feel about the bigger world around them.