The 57 Bus

The 57 Bus

by

Dashka Slater

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Debbie Character Analysis

Sasha’s mother and Karl’s wife. Like her husband, Debbie is accepting and supportive of Sasha’s genderqueer identity, but she has a difficult time understanding what that is exactly. She can understand being gay or transgender, but she can’t “get her head around genderqueer.” Still, since it is important to Sasha, it is important to Debbie as well, even if she does get Sasha’s pronouns wrong occasionally, referring to Sasha as he/his/him instead of they/their/them. Debbie shows compassion for Richard after he is arrested for Sasha’s attack, but she is more resentful than Karl. She doesn’t want Richard to be tried as an adult, but beyond that, she isn’t comfortable “judging him.” She believes that hate breeds more hate, and prison is full of hate, but she also doesn’t want to see Richard go free and hurt somebody else. She fully forgives Richard after reading his letters of apology though, and she admits that if she had been able to read the letters earlier, she would have felt differently about Richard from the start (Richard’s lawyer had held on to them for the duration of the case, since he believed they “contain[ed] an admission of guilt” that would jeopardize Richard’s case). Debbie ultimately symbolizes the possibility and power of forgiveness within The 57 Bus; Richard’s genuine remorse allows Debbie to move away from anger and pain to acceptance and closure, and this forgiveness in turn helps Richard to heal and move on as well. With the character of Debbie, Slater suggests that meaningful justice is not necessarily punitive, and that it doesn’t always require prison.

Debbie Quotes in The 57 Bus

The The 57 Bus quotes below are all either spoken by Debbie or refer to Debbie. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Macmillan edition of The 57 Bus published in 2017.
Part 1: Bathrooms Quotes

It was tough sometimes, watching Sasha navigate a world that didn’t even have a category for them. Occasionally, Debbie wished Sasha would ease up a little—resist correcting well-meaning relatives who said he instead of they, for example. But there was something admirable about it, too, Karl pointed out. Knowing how shy Sasha was, he admired Sasha’s newfound willingness to speak up, to stand out, to be seen.

Related Characters: Sasha, Debbie, Karl
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Restorative Justice Quotes

“RJ isn’t a guarantee of leniency,” Baliga cautioned. “It’s about dispensing with punitiveness for its own sake and trying to produce an outcome that will be more healing for everyone involved.”

Still, Baliga knew that there was little hope of diverting Richard from the criminal justice system entirely. “Given the severity of the harm to Sasha, we didn’t expect that the DA would allow the case to be diverted to restorative justice,” she said.

But if anyone seemed right for restorative justice, it was these two families, who had already expressed compassion for one another. “They were perfect candidates for this dialogue,” she said. “All of them were such gorgeously enlightened, beautiful people.”

Related Characters: Sujatha Baliga (speaker), Sasha, Richard, Debbie, Karl, Jasmine
Page Number: 241
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Victim-Impact Statement Quotes

“We do not understand your actions,” Debbie went on. “But we also think that hatred only leads to more hatred and anger. We don’t want you to come out of prison full of hate. Following the incident, communities near and far affirmed Sasha’s—and everyone’s—right to not be harassed or hurt or bullied for how they dress, or whether they are gay or trans or agender. We truly hope that you will gain some understanding and empathy in the years to come. Maybe sometime in the future you will be the one coming to the aid of someone being bullied.”

Related Characters: Debbie (speaker), Sasha, Richard
Page Number: 264
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: Progress Report Quotes

“From the start we have been opposed to Richard’s being tried as an adult,” he said. “His actions appear to have been impulsive, immature, and unpremeditated. He did make a big mistake and recognizes that. He asked for our forgiveness.” Karl’s voice broke. “Sasha, Debbie, and I have forgiven Richard,” he whispered. “We hope the state will focus more on preparing him for the world beyond incarceration than on punishing him.”

Related Characters: Karl (speaker), Sasha, Richard, Debbie
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The 57 Bus LitChart as a printable PDF.
The 57 Bus PDF

Debbie Character Timeline in The 57 Bus

The timeline below shows where the character Debbie appears in The 57 Bus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: How Do You Know What Gender You Are?
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
...used gender neutral pronouns, and Sasha just knew that they belonged. “Are you genderqueer?” asked Debbie, Sasha’s mother. “Yeah,” they said. Later, Debbie and Karl read Sasha’s social media post about... (full context)
Part 1: Genderqueer
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
As Debbie attempts to understand Sasha’s gender, her thoughts keep returning to sex. “Who are you attracted... (full context)
Part 1: Bathrooms
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
Early in Sasha’s transition, Debbie often felt that Sasha’s gender identity was a “pain in the ass.” Once on a... (full context)
Part 1: Skirts
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
...mixed with t-shirts and vests, and while the outfits aren’t exactly “flamboyant,” they still “make Debbie nervous.” The skirts mean that Sasha no longer wears the “cloak of invisibility,” and she... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
So, Debbie worries about Sasha. “Did anyone give you a hard time?” she asks each day after... (full context)
Part 1: Dress Code
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
Slater recounts Debbie’s experience being sent home from school in 1968 because her skirt was too long. Debbie’s... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
Debbie went to El Camino Real High School, where the girls chanted “Pants! Pants! / Let... (full context)
Part 3: Phone Call
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
...on the bus and I got set on fire.” “What?” he asks in disbelief. When Debbie arrives, she thinks Sasha has “fallen in mud.” Sasha can’t tell the police anything about... (full context)
Part 3: A Man in a Kilt
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
...slept on a public bus.” The kilt report is everywhere, and “it feels wrong to Debbie.” So, when a news reporter knocks on their door, she responds, “My son considers himself... (full context)
Part 3: Surgery
Adolescent Crime vs. Adult Crime Theme Icon
...to watch television. Although Sasha doesn’t know it, the police officer who interviewed Richard tells Debbie that Richard “actually said he’s homophobic” and that “he giggled.” (full context)
Part 3: What They Sent
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
...They keep only cards from friends and a bouquet of silk flowers from a stranger. Debbie and Karl take the rest home. (full context)
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
At home, Debbie checks the online news sites for coverage of Sasha’s case, and she comes across a... (full context)
Part 3: Reunion
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
...when he put out the fire that day, he became “a hero, a Good Samaritan.” Debbie and Karl catch Dan up to speed on Sasha’s condition, and when Sasha finally come... (full context)
Part 4: Not Ready
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...with Sasha and their parents to formally apologize “mother to mother, parent to parent,” but Debbie isn’t ready yet, and she “flinches” at the request. “She believes in forgiveness,” Slater writes,... (full context)
Part 4: What to Say
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...what made him do that, and I’m sorry. We’re not hateful people.” She hugs Sasha, Debbie, and Karl, as do the other members of Richard’s family, and soon they are all... (full context)
Part 4: Always Okay
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
“I felt like it was genuine on their part,” Debbie says later in the elevator. “I’m always okay with hugs,” Sasha says. The deputy district... (full context)
Part 4: Not Wanting To
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Debbie and Karl “don’t feel much need for restorative justice.” Debbie can’t imagine what could even... (full context)
Part 4: A Prayer
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
As Sasha gets ready to leave for college, Debbie thinks about the psychologist who diagnosed Sasha with Asperger’s when they were just seven years... (full context)
Part 4: Bargaining
Adolescent Crime vs. Adult Crime Theme Icon
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...if Richard will be tried as an adult should the case go to trial, and Debbie is “frustrated.” She “just wants it to be done with.” (full context)
Part 4: Victim-Impact Statement
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
In November, Debbie addresses the court at Richard’s sentencing and gives a “victim impact statement.” Standing in front... (full context)
Adolescent Crime vs. Adult Crime Theme Icon
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Debbie feels better after addressing Richard directly, but Karl can’t get over how young Richard looked.... (full context)
Part 4: Mail Delivery
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Sasha finally receives Richard’s letters in January 2015. Sasha, Karl, and Debbie all appreciate his apologies, but they wish that they had seen the letters earlier. “It... (full context)
Part 4: Progress Report
Binary Thought and Inclusive Language Theme Icon
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
...flats.” Their canvas purse is covered in LGBTQ buttons and others that simply read “they/them/their.” Debbie and Karl are there too. It is the last Friday in June 2015. Today is... (full context)
Discrimination and Social Justice Theme Icon
Accountability, Redemption, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...judge does agree, however, to let Karl address the court. Karl speaks “on behalf” of Debbie and Sasha as well and tells the court that they have all “forgiven Richard.” They... (full context)