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The 57 Bus
by Dashka Slater
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
This winner of the Stonewall Book Award recounts in poignant, compassionate journalistic prose the true story of Sasha, a gender non-conforming teen, and Richard, a young laid-back joker from Oakland's flatlands. Sasha attends an artsy private school and Richard is at public school. Their days overlap for 8 minutes on the 57 bus and it is there that a reckless act, a prank, leaves Sasha severely burned and Richard charged with a hate crime and facing life in prison. This is an investigation that transcends the simple definitions of right and wrong, that brings up questions of justice and the prison system, and asks the reader to contemplate their ideas of victim and attacker. There are no easy answers but Slater gives us an intimate view into both teenagers' lives and inspires us to rethink our beliefs. Raw, touching and above all honest, this is an important book.
This is an extraordinary debut - utterly unique in style, point of view, and character. Very apt comparisons have been made to Jane Bowles and Samuel Beckett. It's very, very funny, poignant, and deeply weird in a way that also makes complete sense. Helen's brother has killed himself, and Helen goes back to her adoptive parents' home in Milwaukee to investigate his death. Sorry To Disrupt the Peace is written from the point of view of Helen, a distinctly odd, but sympathetic character. She refers to herself as Sister Reliability and "I'm sorry to disrupt the peace" is her stock apology - which she uses to cover a multitude of situations. This is an incredible book and I hope to read much, much more from Cottrell.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller and Jen Hill (Roaring Brook Press)
I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët (Random House Children's Books)
It will surprise no one that the picture book genre is currently awash in titles devoted to basic values of kindness, empathy and inclusion. And somehow, with the race to the bottom in public life, my two staff picks this month manage to make an obvious and earnest handling of the subject of kindness surprisingly appealing. This is not to say they are perfect. I have concerns about the apparent lack of agency in “victims” who are “saved”, but both books effectively highlight the choice we all have to be bystanders or allies in the face of unkindnesses. In Be Kind, the narrator witnesses unkind behaviour against a fellow classmate and is prompted to consider what it actually means to be kind, in this case and in everyday life. The child wonders if maybe it is giving, listening, paying attention, “sticking up” for others, or maybe all of these things. The book addresses the fact that “being kind” is not always straightforward, and after contemplating grander gestures, the narrator ultimately settles on the small kindness of sitting by the other child and giving her a painting. In the wordless picture book I Walk with Vanessa, a classmate witnesses a new student of colour being bullied after school. The incident troubles her and an evocative double-page spread depicts the two girls in their respective houses that night, alone with their thoughts. The next morning the protagonist has an epiphany at the breakfast table and bounds to the new girl’s house to ask if they can walk to school together. More and more children join them (recalling a real-life incident on an American campus where a student was racially bullied and hundreds of classmates walked her to class) and as the sea of supporters buoys her into school the original bully is depicted as red-faced and isolated. Animating both of these picture books is the appealing thought that individual acts of kindness, however small, can be contagious. Maybe, they suggest, small kindnesses of children can add up to something so big it will spill out of the school and into the street. A comforting thought for little people grappling with big world concerns. Buy the Book