By Leanne Soo, published January 23rd
The 57 Bus is the story of Sasha and Richard, before, during, and after a true incident that occurred on November 4, 2013. While Sasha, who is gender-nonconforming and uses they/them pronouns, slept on the bus, Richard decided to set Sasha’s skirt on fire.
LGBTQ+ history is dark. When beginning this novel, I was shocked at the events that unfolded as I did not read the back summary. Sasha had been sleeping on the bus while Richard, who was with his friend and cousin, laughed at them for wearing a skirt. One held out a lighter to Richard who took it and set Sasha’s skirt on fire. Sasha awoke, looked down at their skirt and screamed, “I’m on fire!” A man tackled them to the ground and put out the fire. However, Sasha still had burnt and charred skin on their legs.
Later, Richard was tried as an adult and experienced challenges that were well described by the author. Richard’s family reached out to Sasha’s and formed an interesting relationship. Sasha’s parents, Debbie and Karl, did not want Richard to be tried as an adult. They understood that it had just been a stupid mistake and that his brain wasn’t fully developed, as he was only sixteen. “ ‘I believe Richard when he says he meant no bodily harm to Sasha,’ Karl continued. ‘But I also believe that Sasha would not have been a target if Sasha had been wearing jeans.’ ” (page 285) Additionally, they didn’t want the trial to last longer than necessary. Both families offered forms of healing to the other, which was heartwarming despite the circumstance.
Letters that Richard wrote to Sasha were also included in the novel, showing how his view is problematic. “I don’t have a problem with homosexual’s I have friends that’s homosexuals and we never had problems so I don’t look at you wrong because of your sexualitie. Honestly I could care less if you like men you wasn’t trying to talk to me in that way. I just hope that you forgive me for the pain I brought you and your family.” (page 185) There’s a lot to unpack in these 3 sentences. Firstly, just because you have friends that are homosexual, that doesn’t mean you can’t be homophobic. That’s like saying “My friend is a person of colour, so I’m not racist.” That’s not how it works. The second line is also controversial. Richard says he’s fine with Sasha’s sexuality since they weren’t hitting on him. However, if they did, he would have issues with it. This conditional support offers an example of the double standard Sasha is being held to.
Their sexuality is tolerable if they do not express interest in boys. Meanwhile, those with similar mindsets to Richard often force their attraction onto women by catcalling and harassing them. This mindset is irrational and proves that Richard must learn more to combat his homophobia.
I don’t usually read non-fiction, but this was an easy read and a great learning experience. This story focused on both sides of the crime, which was intriguing. This book stresses the importance of pronouns, so I strongly recommend this for people who are unsure or make jokes about pronouns. “When people use the right pronouns… it feels validating.” (page 39) However, this book deals with triggering themes so please read at your own discretion.