The 57 Bus

When I was sent a copy of this by Hachette/Wren and Rook in exchange for review (ages ago! I’m sorry – it’s taken me forever!) I had no idea it was non-fiction. I’m not normally a non-fiction reader, but I decided after a friend gave me a non-fiction book to read that I really should read more non-fiction, so it ended up being a bonus that when I did pick this up I discovered it was a true story.

That said – how sad on so many levels that it is. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves or give anything away.

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

If it weren’t for the 57 bus, Richard and Sasha would never have met. Although they live in the same city, they are from radically different worlds. But one single reckless act changes both of their lives forever.

Richard and Sasha don’t know each other. The only contact they have is a few minutes each day on the 57 bus. They are not even aware of the others existence. Until the day Richard sets fire to Sasha’s skirt.  This book charts the events leading up to, surrounding and following that day for both of them.

Sasha identifies as agender, and one of the things I really liked was the inclusion of a chapter detailing and explaining different phrases and terms which may be used in conversations around gender and sexuality. It explains that it by no means covers all bases and that language changes, evolves and differs from person to person, but it’s an excellent starting point.

Because of the way the whole book is written, it didn’t feel at all out of place – some chapters are in list form, some more narrative, some take the form of letters or text messages, so it didn’t feel jarring or ‘stuck in’. It was informative without being either condescending or feeling too in depth and out of reach, and I felt this was true of the writing style throughout the book: it was incredibly easy to read, despite tackling some meaty subjects.

When Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire, the questions begin to build up for the reader as well as for those involved: was it intentional? Was it a hate crime or an act of stupidity? Was it peer pressure (there’s an excellent chapter on the way teen brains are wired and the very specific responses they have to taking risk, high pressure situations and decision making)?

When he is charged, they continue: would that have happened if he were white/well-off/from a different neighbourhood (some of the statistics about the way the justice system was set up/used/manipulated made my head hurt)? Should a teenager ever be tried as an adult and how should that be decided? And what of forgiveness?

While, on the surface, this is a book about Sasha and Richard, the incident on the 57 bus that throws them together and the impact this has on them in the years to come, it’s really about so much more than that. Covering gender, race, class and the so-called ‘rich/poor divide’, prejudice, equality and the US justice system, this is a book that will make you think. It left me feeling frustrated, impotent and angry (that’s a good thing by the way!), as while it is based in America and therefore centred on American systems, laws and culture, much of it is all too applicable here as well.

Meticulously researched and compiled, Dashka Slater has used a great range of sources (interviews, letters, social media, videos etc.) from a variety of people (those involved on both ‘sides’ and their wider family, friends and communities) alongside relevant national data, statistics and trends to highlight the complexities of not just this specific case, but the wider issues surrounding it.

Clearly and concisely written, here is a book for exploring grey areas, questioning the norm, challenging the status quo and opening up debate. A compelling and important read and an excellent addition to any YA library/bookshelf.

WWW Wednesday

I stumbled on this weekly ’round up’ via Kelly’s Rambles, it is originally hosted over here on ‘Taking on a World of Words’ though. I keep thinking I might branch out from just reviews to other book-ish posts and this seemed a good way to start, as well as hopefully being a good way to connect with other book-ish bloggers!

So, the idea is that every Wednesday, we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?

Actually, nothing. Poor timing on my part – I have just finished my current book this morning! So I’m all ready to start something new…

What have you just finished reading?

I’ve been determined to get through some of the books that have languished on my shelf for a while since being on mat leave, especially those kindly sent to me as review copies. So this week I have powered through:

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The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth Winthrop (Adult Fiction): This was ok. It was an interesting way to look approach the subject and I liked the different perspectives it was written from and thought that brought something new to a well-trodden path. But, for me, there just wasn’t enough to save it from feeling like it didn’t have anything really fresh to offer that hasn’t been done before.

The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater (YA Non-fiction): This was excellent: a very well-written and thought-provoking book. A full review will be up either later today or tomorrow.

The List of Real Things by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (YA/MG): A thoroughly enjoyable read with endearing characters, a touch of magic and a sensitive and warm look at growing up, family and loss. I think this is technically classed as YA, but it read much more like MG to me – I can see it being a good one for bridging the two.

No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen (YA/MG): Another one that for me would bridge the YA/MG divide nicely. It’s definitely more YA than MG, but there’s nothing unsuitable for more mature MG readers. A very readable story which has you rooting for main character, Felix from the very beginning, and a great way of beginning to explore the idea of the ever-increasing ‘unseen’ homeless in society.

The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton (MG): Honestly, this one just wasn’t for me. I won’t dwell on it, as I try to keep reviews on the blog fairly positive, but if you want to know in more detail why I wasn’t a fan, just ask.

What are you planning on reading next?

That is a very good question! I was absolutely wet-my-pants excited when this arrived for me in work this week (I should clarify, despite being heavily preggers I did not actually wet my pants with excitement):

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The final edition of it is going to be so beautiful if these ARCs are anything to go by, and I love Katherine Rundell, so this is a top contender for my next read. But, I still have lots of other books that have been waiting patiently on the shelf for ages too – some are more ARCs waiting to be read and reviewed, a lot are ‘grown-up books’ I’ve bought then continually put to the bottom of the pile as new kids/YA ones have turned up:

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So, what do you think? What should I read next?!

Please say hi – let me know if you’ve read any of the books I’ve read this week, or if you think any of my TBR deserve to jump straight into pole position for my next read! And of course, let me know what you are/have been/will be reading too!

I’m Not With the Band

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From the 80’s to the present day, ‘I’m Not With the Band’ is a funny, barmy, utterly gripping chronicle of the last thirty years in music and beyond. It is also the story of one woman’s wayward search for love, peace and a wonderful life. And whether, or not, she found them.

I can’t remember the last time I read an adult non-fiction book (excluding cookery books). The last (only? surely not…though I struggle to think of another…) one I can think of was Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation (which I loved), and that will have been at least 15 years ago, likely closer to 20. Even then, it was probably a rarity on the bookshelf. I’ve just never got into non-fiction. But my friend recommended this to me and it seemed a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I borrowed it.

And I thoroughly enjoyed it!

In part, this documents Sylvia Patterson’s career as a music journalist and the changes in the music industry over the past thirty odd years (and oh, how it has changed). In part, it documents the highs and lows of her personal life. One or the other would have been too much, but there’s a real balance found between the showbiz escapades and the gritty realities of home.

Packed with anecdotes about her time meeting, interviewing (or trying to) everyone from Milli Vanilli to Johnny Cash, from Bros to Page and Plant, from Kylie to Amy Winehouse, from Black Grape to Beyonce, from Westlife to Cypress Hill, from Prince to the Gallagher brothers, from the Housemartins to Britney Spears, from Madonna to the Manics…it’s like a who’s-who of music over the past three decades. And it’s this that could have made it an incredibly self-indulgent, names-clanging-on-the-floor, careful-not-to-offend read.

Fortunately, Sylvia’s style – both at the time and in writing this – save it from that. There’s no hero-worship or pedestal-building, this is a writer who takes these bands as they come, warts and all, and who writes about them with equal honesty, as well as (for the most part) huge warmth, a clear love of what she does and a real sense of seizing the day.

The stories themselves range from the hilarious to the surprising to the wild (as well as to the more contemplative and reflective: it’s especially good to see some of the people she interviews/meets revisited further down the line) and as we move into more recent times, inevitably to the more carefully-constructed, PR-managed non-stories of stars who are brands in themselves. Similarly, we see the music press follow suit: leaving behind its original anarchic, honest and light-hearted approach, unafraid to poke fun both at itself and the celebs being featured, in favour of a polished, branded, corporate makeover in which it’s all about finding an angle, a scoop or a look. It makes for some depressing reading.

As does much of Sylvia’s personal story, which we dip in and out of as we journey through her career in music journalism. I don’t like to give away any spoilers in reviews, so I’ll say little on this front, but from some fairly bleak family events to some unenviable living arrangements to some very questionable choices in partners and parties (which it’s so easy to empathise with; I found myself simultaneously rooting for her to get out of whichever sticky situation she’d ended up in, whilst cheering that it wasn’t just me and breathing a sigh of relief that other people also made stupid life choices in their youth) to dealing with some difficult blows (one chapter of which was heartbreaking, but also had me shouting “YES! Thank you! This!”)

I laughed (A LOT), I *nearly* cried (though I’m blaming hormones for that…), I felt enormously lucky and grateful, I envied, I shook my head, I cheered. I want to read some more non-fiction…and it’s all Sylvia’s fault!

That said – any other good non-fiction recommends?! Thinking along the music lines and nothing too tome-like! I’ve bought Patti Smith’s Kids on another friend’s recommendation, and I’ve heard good things about Mark ‘E’ Everett’s autobiography too. Any others?