Last Updated on November 13, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1679
Sasha was an agender teen in their final year at a “small private high school” at the time of the 57 bus attack. Sasha had recently come to realize their agender identity and usually wore a skirt—as they were doing on the day when, on the bus journey home, Richard set their skirt on fire. An aspiring poet, Sasha is fond of cats, their hair, and hugs; they dislike the concept of gender as a whole. This derives from an interest in language that began in childhood; by the time they were in high school, they were inventing languages and befriending other “conlangers,” or people interested in language creation. Sasha’s interest in languages was partially driven by their rejection of gendered language, and they eventually came out as genderqueer to their parents, stipulating that gender-neutral pronouns were preferred. The name “Sasha” is a chosen one, as Sasha was born Luke.
Sasha is outspoken “once you get to know them” but is initially quiet and shy, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child. They are extremely academic and classified as “one of the nerdy kids” at school.
Sasha comes from a middle-class family who live in the foothills and has had a generally privileged existence. After the fire, they suffered third-degree burns and had to be hospitalized. Surgeries and skin grafts followed. In the days after they returned to school, Sasha was quieter than before. While glad to have been the source of agender representation in the media, the circumstances were obviously regrettable.
Richard was a sixteen-year-old black boy attending the public Oakland High School when he carried out the attack on Sasha on the 57 bus.
The day after the attacks, Richard was arrested at school and charged with two felonies, each including a hate-crime clause—which would increase the lengths of any sentences given. He was charged as an adult, rather than as a juvenile, because of the severity of his offense.
As the book progresses, we come to learn more about Richard and what he was like as a person at the time that he carried out the attack on Sasha on the 57 bus. He was “good-looking” and light-skinned, “always smiling, always joking,” but with a tendency to be quiet and alert around strangers. His high school, Oakland High, was “right in the middle in almost every respect,” comprising students from all ethnic groups and backgrounds. However, only two thirds of its students generally managed to graduate, making it quite a different experience from Sasha’s supportive private school. In the past, he had lived in group homes and been arrested for fighting. His grades were poor and his attendance spotty, but he was sure he wasn’t “a bad kid” and willingly joined a program meant to help truant students get back on track. Others noted that he “wanted people to be happy” and tried hard to become part of Kaprice’s family.
Many elements affecting Richard were outside of his control. These included the murder of his friend Skeet, only one of many young black men shot in Oakland. While Richard enjoyed his jobs and tried to work hard, he simply could not concentrate on schoolwork. At one point he was robbed at gunpoint. Readers come to understand that Richard did not expect Sasha’s skirt to actually go up in flames, but thought it would be “a laugh” and that the skirt would only smolder briefly. We also discover that, while Richard admits that he is “homophobic,” his interpretation of this is not active hate, but simply a result of not understanding how people like Sasha relate to the world. His upbringing has shaped who he is.
Richard wrote a letter of apology to Sasha while incarcerated, followed by a longer one. Although this could not be sent because it contained an admission of guilt, in it, Richard asked for...
(The entire section contains 1679 words.)
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