My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a true story.
Monday, November 2, 2013. Oakland, California.
Sasha sits in the back of the bus reading wearing a T-shirt, black fleece jacket, a gray flat cap, and gauzy white skirt. A senior at a small private school, the teenager identifies as agender—neither male nor female.
Sasha falls asleep.
A few seats away, three teenage boys are fooling around. Richard, with the sweet smile, wears a black hoodie and New York Knicks hat. He’s sixteen and a junior at Oakland High School.
Sasha wakes up in flames and screams.
Sasha spends over three weeks undergoing multiple surgeries to treat second and third-degree burns on their legs. Richard is arrested and charged as an adult with two felonies, each with a hate-crime clause.
From the start, the author reminds us how delicate the balance hangs prior to the crime, how it almost didn’t happen, how any number of things could have changed each teenager’s fate.
Richard is from East Oakland.
He’d rather cruise town with friends looking for excitement. Until he meets truancy coordinator, Kaprice Wilson, who grew up on these streets. Richard related to her and he wanted to get his act together.
“He has the potential to achieve anything he wants,” his employer wrote. Richard helped his mother with the bills, while she also took care of his deceased aunt’s daughters. He’d lost two aunts to gun violence and many friends.
Sasha has always been fascinated by language. The shape and structure of it. They created their own language known as “Conlangers”. Sasha loves buses.
“I don’t want for people to think of me as a he, and when they say he, not only does it reinforce in their brains that I am a he, it also reinforces it in the brains of people who are listening,” Sasha explains. “It doesn’t really directly affect me, at least to hear it—it’s more like, Huh, that’s not right. And when people use the right pronouns, when they use they or another gender-neutral pronoun, it feels validating.”
“Transgender people are the victims of an astonishing amount of violence. One out of every four trans people has experienced a bias-driven assault, and numbers are higher for trans women, trans people of color, and people who identify as neither male nor female. Of the 860 nonbinary people who responded to the 2008 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 32 percent had been physically assaulted.”
“A 2012 analysis by California’s Department of Justice found that cases against black youths were more than twice as likely to be directly filed in adult court than cases against white youths, and cases against Latino youths were more than six times as likely. And the disparity didn’t end there. Once they landed in adult court, young black and brown offenders were also much more likely to serve time.”
A harrowing account of a terrible crime, detailing the agony each family went through, and the heartbreak of those who love Richard and Sasha. The author has written with clarity and compassion about the injustices within the juvenile incarceration system and the prejudices endured by the LGBTQIA+ community. Showing us much about forgiveness and the importance of community. A compelling must-read for anyone who cares about social justice.
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