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Review: The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives
Dashka Slater
Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Published October 17, 2017

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The 57 Bus

One teenager in a skirt.
One teenager with a lighter.
One moment that changes both of their lives forever.

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Sasha and Richard never would have met. Both were high school students from Oakland, California, one of the most diverse cities in the country, but they inhabited different worlds. Sasha, a white teen, lived in the middle-class foothills and attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, lived in the crime-plagued flatlands and attended a large public one. Each day, their paths overlapped for a mere eight minutes. But one afternoon on the bus ride home from school, a single reckless act left Sasha severely burned, and Richard charged with two hate crimes and facing life imprisonment. The case garnered international attention, thrusting both teenagers into the spotlight.

My Review

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time, and I seriously can’t believe I waited so long to read it. What an incredible book! It blew me away.

What’s funny is that I’ve read several picture books by Dashka Slater (the Escargot books are a favorite in my house). This book is so different than those, and each is so well done.

It’s obvious that the author put so much care and thoughtfulness into the book’s structure. It’s got a ton of short sections. One defines some different queer identities. Another spells out the rights of a prisoner at a juvenile detention center. Others contain short stories or observations by Sasha or Richard or people close to them.

The narrative explores the lives of Sasha (victim) and Richard (perpetrator) with dignity and fairness. Nowhere does the author minimize or dismiss the seriousness of what happened to Sasha. She also includes interviews and statements from Richard’s friends and family, along with some biographical information about and statements from Richard himself. This way we get a more complete picture of both of the teens involved that terrible day on the 57 Bus.

Slater discusses how different people become targeted in hate crimes and the advancement and rolling back of protections for LGBTQIA+ people and the impact that has had. She also talks about the justice system, particularly in the process of juvenile offenders being charged as adults, and how that impacts the lives of young people and the community as a whole.

It’s such a powerful book. The points and information are clearly stated and related in a way that made me feel like I knew each of the people the narrative followed. I think this is a really important book for people to read.


Fans of true crime books and readers looking for compelling nonfiction or stories about LGBTQIA+ youth need to grab a copy of this one. Put it on your Pride Month reading list or read it on a weekend– the short sections and compelling writing make this a super quick read.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Sasha is agender and uses they/them pronouns. Some of their friends have LGBTQIA+ identities as well. Richard is Black. His family members and some of his friends are Black.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently. The N-word is used, usually by a Black boy to his Black friends. There are a few homophobic statements.

Romance/Sexual Content
Some discussion of various sexual and gender identities and what the labels mean to the people using them.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content
Contains brief but graphic descriptions of the burns sustained by Sasha when their skirt was set on fire on a bus and brief but graphic descriptions of the treatment of the burns.

Drug Content
References to the smell of pot smoke in bathrooms at school. Doctors prescribe morphine for Sasha during their recovery from burns and surgeries.

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Book Bans and The 57 Bus

THE 57 BUS is a frequently challenged or banned book. Author Dashka Slater offers this statement about book bans in general and in reference to this book.