The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (review)
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Reviewed by
Slater, Dashka The 57 Bus. Farrar, 2017 [320p]
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-374-30323-5 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-374-30325-9 $9.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 9-12

In November 2013, one Oakland teenager on the 57 bus put a lighter to another kid’s skirt, which then went up in flames, leaving the victim with second and third-degree burns. The offender, Richard, was a black male, from a public high school and a low-income single-parent family; the victim, Sasha, was white and agender, from a private high school and middle-class family. Slater, who wrote about the incident for the New York Times, draws on interviews and primary-source information for this thoughtful and creative book-length treatment; compact one to three-page chapters incorporate narrative prose, text exchanges and Tumblrs, bullet-pointed lists of facts, and brief swatches of free-verse poetry. The book’s main theme is resistance to reductive binaries, whether it’s good and bad, adult and child, or male and female. It’s clear, for instance, that Richard wasn’t the monster of hate that early reports suggested but a nice if troubled kid with a big follower streak and a tendency toward bad decisions, and his initial treatment as an adult by the courts was questioned by many, including the victim’s family. There’s also a lot of exploration of the problematic nature of justice in life as well as in the court system. This will be a reliable discussion starter for readers of various aptitude levels, and it would make a fascinating complement to Myers’ Monster (BCCB 5/99). End matter includes information about gender neutrality and juvenile detention; some information about sources can be found in the acknowledgments, but there are no notes.

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