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By four-thirty in the afternoon, the first mad rush of after-school passengers has come and gone. What’s left are stragglers and stay-laters, swiping their bus passes as they climb onto the 57 bus and take seats among the coming-home workers, the shoppers and errand-doers, the other students from high schools and middle schools around the city. The bus is loud but not as loud as sometimes. A few clusters of kids are shouting and laughing and an older woman at the front keeps talking to the driver.

Dark is coming on. Daylight savings ended yesterday, and now evening rushes into the place where afternoon used to be. Everything is duskier, sleepier, wintrier now. Passengers look at their phones or stare through the scratched and grimy windows at the waning light.

Sasha sits near the back. For much of the journey, the teenager has been reading a paperback copy of Anna Karenina for a class in Russian literature. Today, like most days, Sasha wears a T-shirt, a black fleece jacket, a gray flat cap, and a gauzy white skirt. A senior at a small private high school, the teenager identifies as agender—neither male nor female. As the bus lumbers through town, Sasha puts down the book and drifts into sleep, skirt draped over the edge of the seat.

A few feet away, three teenage boys are laughing and joking. One of them, Richard, wears a black hoodie and an orange-billed New York Knicks hat. A sixteen-year-old junior at Oakland High School, he’s got hazel eyes and a slow, sweet grin. He stands with his back to Sasha, gripping a pole for balance.

  • Winner of the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award

  • YALSA-ALA Excellence for Nonfiction Award Finalist

  • Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book Award for Nonfiction

  • Winner of the California Library Association’s Beatty Award

  • Winner of the California Book Award Gold Medal

  • Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award

  • Northern California Independent Booksellers Best Young Adult Book

  • A Junior Library Guild Selection

  • A TAYSAs Top Ten Book

  • Washington Post Best Children’s Book of the Year

  • A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

  • A Kirkus Best Teen Nonfiction Book

  • A Shelf Awareness Best Children’s & Teen Book

  • A 2018 American Library Association Rainbow Reads Top Ten Book

  • A 2018 YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers

  • A Children’s Book Review Best Young Adult Book

  • A New York Public Library Notable Book for Teens

  • A Denver Public Library Best & Brightest Teen Book 

  • A Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Teen Book

  • A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year

  • A Bustle Best True Crime Book

  • A Texas Topaz Nonfiction Reading List Book

  • An International Literacy Association Notable Book for a Global Society

  • A Capitol Choices Noteworthy Book for Children & Teens

  • Nerdy Book Club Award for Long Form Nonfiction

  • On the CCBC Choices list from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center

  • A NCSS-CBC Notable Social Science Trade Book for Young People

  • Oklahoma Library Association Sequoyah Book Award Nominee

  • Pennsylvania Young Reader’s Choice Awards Program Master List

  • Winner Green Mountain Book Award

  • Rhode Island Teen Book Award Nominee

  • North Carolina Young Adult Book Award Nominee
  • A Florida Teen Read
  • A Grand Canyon Reader Award Nominee
  • A Project Lit Book Club Selection

Sasha sleeps as Richard and his companions goof around, play fighting. Sleeps as Richard’s cousin Lloyd bounds up and down the aisle flirting with a girl up front. Sleeps as Richard surreptitiously flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of that gauzy white skirt.


In a moment, Sasha will wake inside a ball of flame and begin to scream.

In a moment, everything will be set in motion.

Taken by ambulance to a San Francisco burn unit, Sasha will spend the next three and a half weeks undergoing multiple surgeries to treat second- and third-degree burns running from calf to thigh.

Arrested at school the following day, Richard will be charged with two felonies, each with a hate-crime clause that will add time to his sentence if he is convicted. Citing the severity of the crime, the district attorney will charge him as an adult, stripping him of the protections normally given to juveniles. Before the week is out, he will be facing the possibility of life imprisonment.

But none of that has happened yet. For now, both teenagers are just taking the bus home from school.

Surely it’s not too late to stop things from going wrong. There must be some way to wake Sasha. Divert Richard. Get the driver to stop the bus.

There must be something you can do.