Young adult nonfiction is a weird genre,and sometimes I worry it isn’t a genre at all. It certainly felt like that when I was trying to find the right book to read for my young adult literature class on the category. There are memoirs from teen activists and celebrities, sure, but I wasn’t something that felt like adult nonfiction books I love but about teens. I was recommend The 57 Bus and it was a great pick for this challenge.
The 57 Bus is true crime meets social justice meets great reporting. Slater tells the story of two teens who cross paths on a bus one day and their lives are never the same. There’s Sasha, an agenda teen on the autism spectrum who wears skirts and vests and using the pronoun they. Then there’s Richard, a black teen who struggles in school sometimes, has spent time in a group home, but really wants to graduate and turn things around. The cross paths on the 57 bus one day, and Richard, likely goaded on by his friends, sets Sasha’s skirt on fire. Sasha’s legs are severely burn, Richard is eventually arrested, and from there, the book dives into the criminal justice system, the idea of restorative justice, unpacking gender identity in the media, and the process of healing for everyone involved. Because this books involves a crime parts of it read like a true crime novel, and a good one at that, but it also dives into a lot of deeper issues about who we are and who we could have been and who we can make ourselves become if we put a little work into it. It tackles topics of criminal justice and healing and ultimately does a great job of showing both sides of a story without vilifying anyone. Slater someone makes you intrigued by both main actors in this story even when it isn’t easy.
This book is really well written. There are third-person chapters that follow the stories of both Richard and Sasha but also of their parents and friends and the people around them. It also tackles a lot of issues or touches on them. Some of the ones I haven’t mention include Sasha’s transgender and gay friend, the history of hate crimes, general ideas of sexuality and gender identity, and more. They’re all well done and presented informatively while still fitting into the greater story.
Ultimately, I’m glad I picked this book up! If you have YA nonfiction recommendations, please drop them in the comments!