A dozen students and six faculty members gathered in the corner of the Almy Library last week to hear author and journalist Dashka Slater read from and discuss The 57 Bus: A True Story About Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives.
Published in October, Ms. Slater’s eighth book follows Oakland, California, high schoolers Richard and Sasha, one of whom is African-American and the other of whom identifies as agender, neither male nor female. One day in 2013, the two students were riding the bus when Richard ignited Sasha’s skirt as a prank. The book chronicles the students’ lives before and after the event.
Ms. Slater opened her presentation on January 8 by reading the book’s prologue, which describes the moment before Richard lit the flame. She then explained how the incident had occurred mere blocks away from her house in Oakland and how it had been major news in her neighborhood. This proximity, in addition to her experience reporting on criminal justice, sparked her interest in the story, Ms. Slater said.
“I hope that people unlike Richard and Sasha can understand their lives and feel identification for them,” she said. “And most of all, I hope that because of the struggles the two teenagers faced, we can find room in our hearts and minds for them both.”
Abigail Rabieh ’21 said she enjoyed learning about Richard.
“Richard’s case was really interesting because while he disagreed with Sasha’s expression of self to a great extent, he did not mean for the prank to manifest so terribly,” she said. “He was just a teenager who didn’t know the consequences.”
Ollie Garvey ’21, who described himself as part of the LGBTQ+ community, said that the story “really hit home” and added that he hoped listening to Ms. Slater’s presentation would help students learn to empathize with one another.
“The presentation should make people start to realize how pranks and even simple statements can easily go too far and affect people’s lives,” he said. “People need to respect each other’s identities. We need to be aware of these issues because they are actually occurring in our own country.”
Upper School Director Geoff Theobald listened to the beginning of the talk and said he was impressed by Ms. Slater.
“I was fascinated by her career as an investigative reporter and her connection to this particular case—she knew the school(s), she lives in the exact area, and she even had a connection to some of the kids involved,” he said. “I loved that she was able to come here and share her story and her writing with the students, and I’m grateful to Ms. Dow and Ms. Duncan for helping create the event.”
Head Librarian Sandy Dow connected with Ms. Slater in early December after learning that the author would be on a book tour in the Greater Boston area this month. Ms. Slater lived up to her expectations, she said.
“She was personable, genuine—all those great words describe her and her presentation,” she said. “The 57 Bus is really interesting and really timely, [and] it’s about kids who are the same age as those I work with, so I loved that students could hear this story and become more empathetic, open-minded, and self-aware. It’s also so cool just to meet this interesting and articulate author.”