In the fall of 2013, on a bus ride home, a young man sets another student on fire.
In a small private high school, Sasha, a white teen with Asperger’s, enjoyed “a tight circle of friends,” “blazed through calculus, linguistics, physics, and computer programming,” and invented languages. Sasha didn’t fall into a neat gender category and considered “the place in-between…a real place.” Encouraged by parents who supported self-expression, Sasha began to use the pronoun they. They wore a skirt for the first time during their school’s annual cross-dressing day and began to identify as genderqueer. On the other side of Oakland, California, Richard, a black teen, was “always goofing around” at a high school where roughly one-third of the students failed to graduate. Within a few short years, his closest friends would be pregnant, in jail, or shot dead, but Richard tried to stay out of real trouble. One fateful day, Sasha was asleep in a “gauzy white skirt” on the 57 bus when a rowdy friend handed Richard a lighter. With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged.
An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness. (Nonfiction. 14-18)