Sasha Fleishman, who identifies as asexual, was on their way home from school on the 57 bus in Oakland, Ca, on Monday, November 4th, 2013, when they were set on fire. Richard Thomas and his friend saw Sasha wearing a skirt and tried to ‘prank’ them by putting a lighter to it. Sasha suffered 3rd degree burns and went through several surgeries to heal their ailing legs. Richard would go on to be tried as an adult and was sentenced to 7 years in jail, but his time was later reduced to 5 years.
Slater’s well-researched book starts with two sections fully describing both teens’ upbringing, then moves on to the crime, and finally, the legal decisions. The reader gets to know each youth in regards to their home life, education, and outlook on their futures. Sasha’s story at times focuses on the transition from ‘Luke’ to ‘Sasha,’ and helping the reader understand about gender, sex, sexuality, and romantic terms. It’s a wealth of knowledge that allows for a deeper understanding of the crime and its affect on the greater community.
Richard is described as a bit of a jokester and a follower. But a young man who can be caring and loyal to family. A fight before his sophomore year had sent him away to juvenile detention, but on his return to public high school, he reached out to a counselor for help to graduate.
The author provides frank discussion points on juvenile crime, restorative justice, and hate crimes. This highlighted crime is emblematic of so many issues that are plaguing the LGBTQ community as well as young African-American males. Slater does a good job of framing both issues and the pacing could not have been better. The integration of statistics and researched material with the crime’s narrative was perfect.
I will make sure that we have this book in my school’s library.