One story to win the American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Award for children’s and young adult literature begins in Los Angeles, where Suzette has returned from boarding school. She finds herself “standing outside LAX on a sun-soaked afternoon in early June.”
The other prizewinning story begins in Oakland, California, where Sasha sits near the back of the No. 57 bus, dozing after setting aside Anna Karenina. Nearby stands Richard, the teenage boy who “flicks a lighter and touches it to the hem of that gauzy white skirt” Sasha wears.
“Both Little & Lion and The 57 Bus are rich stories that will speak to youth in significant ways,” said Christina H. Door, chair of the Stonewall Book Awards Committee. “The first, a fiction title, offers authentic, vivid characters who will keep readers riveted. … The second, a nonfiction book, will spark powerful conversations.”
Little & Lion is the third book by Colbert, an L.A.-based copy editor from Springfield, Missouri, who has a talent for creating authentic voices and memorable characters.
Written for readers 14 and older, the novel is about love and loss, identity and redemption. It tells the story of Suzette, who, home from school, falls for a girl and a boy and comes to terms with her bisexuality.
The ALA, in praising Little & Lion, said Colbert “thoughtfully navigates the complexities of intersectional identities, familial loyalty and mental illness with a fresh, empathetic voice.”
Praising The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed their Lives, the ALA said Slater, with a journalist’s eye, addresses “issues of gender identity, race and class division and the complexity of the justice system … with clarity and thoughtfulness.”
The book is about a case that captured international headlines in 2013. Richard Thomas and Sasha Fleischman were high-school students. Sasha, a white agender teen, attended a small private school. Richard, a black teen, attended a large public school. For about eight minutes a day, on the No. 57 bus, they were together.
One late Monday afternoon in November 2013, Richard set fire to Sasha’s skirt and, as Slater writes, Sasha woke inside a ball of flame and began to scream.
But The 57 Bus is not a true-crime story, nor is it mainly about a victim or a criminal. Rather, the book concerns the complexities of teen life, healing, mercy, courage and injustice.
The Stonewall Book Awards — considered the most prestigious prizes for LGBT-themed literature — were announced earlier this year by the ALA and will be presented in June at the organization’s annual conference in New Orleans.