About Dashka Slater

Journalist, novelist, and children's book author Dashka Slater has been telling stories since she could talk. Her novel for adults, The Wishing Box, was named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, while her journalism honors include a gold Azbee, two Maggies, and a Media Alliance Meritorious Achievement Award, as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Association of Alternative Newspapers, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the California State Bar, and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. She is a former “Who Made That” columnist for the New York Times Magazine and has written on topics ranging from competitive jousting to criminal justice. The recipient of a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Slater’s new non-fiction narrative, The 57 Bus: A True Story About Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives, will be released by Farrar Straus & Giroux in October 2017.


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Books A Million

  • 3 Starred Reviews
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • A BookExpo 2017 Editors Buzz Panel Pick
  • An Amazon Young Adult Pick

Teachers! Download Discussion Questions here! 

Reviews

“Slater artfully unfolds a complex and layered tale about two teens whose lives intersect with painful consequences. This work will spark discussions about identity, community, and what it means to achieve justice."

Full review

“Riveting… Slater skillfully conveys the complexities of both young people’s lives and the courage and compassion of their families, friends, and advocates, while exploring the challenges and moral ambiguities of the criminal justice system. This painful story illuminates, cautions, and inspires.”

Full review

“Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness.”

Full review

"I wish The 57 Bus was required reading in all high schools across the country. Not only is this nonfiction book beautifully written and meticulously researched, but it is pieced together in such a way that it continuously challenges the readers to think beyond what they hear, beyond what they are shown, beyond what they assume. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it."

Reviews

Glamour

At the start of this funny, magical debut novel, 29-year-old single mom Julia Harris has no ambition, no relationship and no clue about what she wants from life. But when clairvoyant Aunt Simone inspires Julia’s sister, Lisa, to wish for the return of their long-absent father, his appearance sets off a chain of events that forces Julia to earn her happy ending – aptly illustrating yet another warning your mother had right: Be careful what you wish for.

San Jose Mercury News

Dashka Slater...has written a stunning, poetic first novel about appearances and disappearances, about family legacies, religious belief and cultural inheritances... Her language feels meant to be read aloud... Impressive.

Los Angeles Times

An impish novel, hopeful and full of humor.

Dallas Morning News

Slater, a California poet and journalist, has crafted an imaginative book that is lovely, lively, funny and smart.

Publisher's Weekly

An enchanting debut.

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An Interview with
Dashka Slater

Part 1 | Part 2 

Kindlegraph: Request an Autographed eBook

The Golden State has become a wasteland of unemployment and budget deficits. Now legislators are cutting holes in what's left of the safety net.

Source: Newsweek. Published 28 August 2011.

californiabrinkToni Sevchuck knows that budgeting is about making tough choices: taxes vs. cuts, parks vs. prisons, health care vs. schools. But as California's austere new state budget goes into effect, the 47-year-old mostly deaf single mother is finding that her own options have run out. "I don't get to make choices," she says. "I don't have the money to make choices with."

The state's Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal in California, stopped covering dental care in 2009, so Sevchuck has had four molars pulled and is likely to lose a fifth. Last month her welfare and disability payments were cut by 8 percent each, leaving her with $1,160 in monthly aid, plus $200 a month in food stamps. After she pays her rent, she has $310 to pay all her other bills, including a $237 car payment. Each month most of her bills don't get paid. "It doesn't seem like a lot of money to most people," she says of the combined $44 reduction in her monthly checks. "But when you're in my boat, that pays your utilities."

Sevchuck's sense of dwindling options is being echoed across the state. You hear it from the 22-year-old senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz—the first in his family to go to college—whose tuition has risen 80 percent since freshman year. You hear it from the 49-year-old partial quadriplegic in Orange County who may lose the state-funded caregiver who allows her to stay out of a nursing home. And you hear it from the 55-year-old accountant in Inglewood as he braces for the end of state funding for the adult-day-care center where his 75-year-old mother, a retired schoolteacher with advanced dementia, spends her days. "Many of these cuts are hitting the same vulnerable people over and over again," says Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Association for Adult Day Services. "It's not sharing the pain, it's really piling on the pain."

As the nation's most populous state and the world's eighth-largest economy, California rarely does things by halves. Dreams are bigger and glossier here, and when they crash, they crash spectacularly. California's per capita foreclosure rate is the highest of any state outside of Nevada. Unemployment has reached a grueling 12 percent, nearly 3 points higher than the national average. And while nearly every state in the union faced budget deficits this year, California's was the nation's largest, at $26.6 billion. The resulting $15 billion in cuts came on top of the $22.5 billion axed in the previous two budget cycles. By way of contrast, the package of austerity cuts and tax hikes that sent rioters into the streets in Athens this spring totaled $40 billion over three years—and those cuts hadn't even gone into effect when the demonstrations started.

The numbers may be larger in California, but nearly every state in the union is reeling from the tenacious recession that put increased pressure on government services at the exact moment when there was less revenue available to pay for them. It's not just income and sales taxes that are down. Stock-market declines have whittled capital-gains-tax revenues. Foreclosures stifle property-tax income, as does a hunkered-down populace wary about building or buying new homes. At the same time, the federal stimulus funds that helped states cover the gap between revenue and expenses for the past two years are now running out, but the tax revenues they were meant to replace still haven't returned to pre-recession levels. In fact, economists don't expect to see revenues rebound before 2014. Piling on the uncertainty is the recent federal-debt-ceiling agreement that promises $900 billion in cuts over the next 10 years, cuts that could slash federal antipoverty programs like Head Start and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. No one knows exactly how the federal cuts will play out, but with the congressional deficit supercommittee seeking to identify an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts, it's clear that austerity is the new normal.

While there's plenty of pain to go around, no place has felt the pinch like California. The state's finances have been in upheaval since the 2001 recession, hamstrung by partisan gridlock, tax-averse voters, and an ever-expanding prison system that devours billions of dollars in funds each year. Budget gaps have been closed by borrowing and bailing wire, as clever accounting gimmicks substitute for sober belt-tightening or painful tax hikes. In 2010, Standard & Poor's was so alarmed by the state's financial fecklessness that it downgraded its bond rating to A-, the worst among the 50 states.

When voters brought Democrat Jerry Brown back to the governor's mansion last fall (he also served as governor from 1975 to 1983), he promised an end to the budget games. But in a nod to the state's still-thriving antitax movement, he also promised not to impose any new taxes without first putting them to a popular vote—something the state's Republican legislators have blocked. Stymied on the tax front, Brown balanced the budget by combining $15 billion in cuts with $4 billion in optimism. The idea was that the recovery would increase the haul from the state's existing income, sales, and corporate taxes. But so far, the rising tide has failed to flow, driving the state closer to $2.5 billion in automatic midyear budget cuts that will hit hardest in higher education, help for the disabled, and public safety.

"We're facing the unintended consequences of decisions based on a legacy of many, many bad decisions coupled with a lack of revenues, and that's of grave concern to me," says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who recently lambasted the U.S. Congress for shuffling through the same partisan budget dance Californians know so well. "The social safety net is being cut not with a knife but an ax."

Anger over similar safety-net cuts helped feed five days of riots, looting, and arson in London this month, and some wonder if the same thing could happen here, where the gap between the haves and have-nots has been widening for decades. Those who have been hit hardest by the cuts are women, children, the elderly, and the disabled—groups unlikely to start ransacking their local 7-Eleven. But deep cuts to the state university system led to rowdy demonstrations last spring, and those who work with the inner-city poor point out that the triggers for civil unrest are usually only obvious in hindsight. "I'm worried about people getting so frustrated that they become angry and we have major disruptions," says Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president of the Community Coalition, a nonprofit neighborhood-organizing group in South Los Angeles, the epicenter of the Rodney King riots in 1992. "We have the same sort of problems London does. We are going to have to deal with it."

The sense of being squeezed from all sides isn't limited to the state's poor. It's true of its middle class as well, particularly those who were counting on California's storied public universities. Tuition and fees in the University of California system now top $13,000, more than double what they were in 2005, and if December's automatic cuts go through, tuition could rise even more steeply. Things are worse in the California State University system, where educational costs have doubled in four years, making it the fastest-growing tuition in the country. Aissa Canchola, a fifth-year senior double-majoring in political science and American studies at Cal State Fullerton, is trying to be the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college. Her parents were both postal workers (her father passed away her sophomore year), making the family's income too high to qualify for Pell Grants—so she has had to work 40 hours a week to cover her rising tuition and fees, now about $6,400 a year. But despite her hectic work schedule, she'll graduate with $22,000 in debt. "Not only am I going to be coming out with debt," she says, "but my opportunities for jobs are dismal in California with [just] my bachelor's degree."

The squeeze has even reached into the state's more affluent enclaves. Daniel Victor and Norma Silverman both teach on the same high-school campus in upscale West Los Angeles—he teaches English; she teaches government and history. Over the last three years, they've seen their combined income drop by about 25 percent. Part of the drop is owing to five forced furlough days last year, but the bulk is because of cutbacks in summer school and other extra classes that the two used to teach to supplement their income. "I can't even tell you how many thousands of dollars we've lost because of the cutbacks," Victor says. Meanwhile, the number of students in his AP English class has doubled—from 20 to 40.

Still, Victor knows he has the resources to weather the storm—a house, a job, savings. That can't be said for many of the state's elderly and disabled, who have seen the costs of long-term care eat away at their savings. Now comes a crushing blow. After years of last-minute reprieves, the state is poised to end its Adult Day Health Care benefit, an innovative program that allows those with significant medical or cognitive problems—brain injury, stroke, Alzheimer's—to spend their days in centers where they can receive physical and occupational therapy, emotional support, and plain old company. They're an alternative both to nursing homes and to a stultifying life as a shut-in, and they allow caregivers, many of whom are in the "sandwich generation" taking care of both children and parents, to work or care for kids during the day. But in December, Medi-Cal funding for the program is set to vanish. Without public funding (the federal matching funds would disappear, too), most of the state's roughly 300 Adult Day Health Care centers are expected to close, leaving 35,000 seniors and disabled Californians with a very uncertain future.

That terrifies Carl Hamiel, the accountant whose mother, Joann, the 75-year-old retired schoolteacher with advanced dementia, attends Graceful Senescence Adult Day Health Care in South Los Angeles. Hamiel, 55, runs a small business and owns his home. But his accounting practice took a big hit in the recession, and he has two small children to support, as well as being the sole caretaker for his mother. He doesn't have the money to pay for a full-time caregiver, so if Graceful Senescence closes he imagines he'll have to bring his mother with him to work and hope his clerical staff can look after her. "I would really, really hate to place her [in a nursing home]," he says, his voice breaking. "It's something I don't like to think about."

 

 

North Dakota’s Norway Experiment

Can humane prisons work in America? A red state aims to find out.

Source: Mother Jones.

Late one night in October 2015, North Dakota prisons chief Leann Bertsch met Karianne Jackson, one of her deputies, for a drink in a hotel bar in Oslo, Norway. They had just spent an exhausting day touring Halden, the maximum-security facility Time has dubbed “the world’s most humane prison,” yet neither of them could sleep.

Halden is situated in a remote forest of birch, pine, and spruce with an understory of blueberry shrubs. The prison is surrounded by a single wall. It has no barbed wire, guard towers, or electric fences. Prisoners stay in p

The Uncomfortable Truth About Children's Books

Attempts to diversify lily-white kid lit have been, well, complicated.

Source: Mother Jones.

One afternoon last fall, I found myself reading my picture book The Sea Serpent and Me to a group of schoolchildren in the island nation of Grenada. The story is about a little girl who befriends a tiny serpent that falls out of her bathroom faucet. I had thought it would appeal to children who lived by the sea, but as I looked at their uncomprehending faces, I realized how wrong I was. It wasn't just my American accent and unfamiliar vocabulary, but the story's central dilemma: The girl wants to kee

The Fire on the 57 Bus in Oakland

Source: The New York Times Magazine. Published January 2015.

It was close to 5 o’clock on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2013, and Sasha Fleischman was riding the 57 bus home from school. An 18-year-old senior at a small private high school, Sasha wore a T-shirt, a black fleece jacket, a gray newsboy cap and a gauzy white skirt. For much of the long bus ride through Oakland, Calif., Sasha — who identifies as agender, neither male nor female — had been reading a paperback copy of “Anna Karenina,” but eventually the teenager drifted into sleep, skirt draped over the edge of the bus seat.

As Sasha slept, three teenage boys laughed and joked nearby. Then one surreptitiously fli

These Guys Can Make Your iPhone Last Forever

Behind the scenes at iFixit, where DIY repair is more than just a business.

Source: Mother Jones. Published November/December 2012.

IN MARCH, ONE DAY BEFORE THE RELEASE of the iPad 3, iFixit cofounder Luke Soules traveled 17 hours from San Luis Obispo, California, to Melbourne, Australia, so that he could be the first person in the world—literally—to purchase one. Then, wielding a heat gun, some high-powered suction cups, eight guitar picks, a Phillips screwdriver, and a flat-headed tool called a spudger, he proceeded to gut the thi

How Dangerous is your Couch?

Source: New York Times. Published 6 September 2012.

In September 1976, a mail runner from Katmandu arrived at Base Camp on Mount Everest with a package for Dr. Arlene Blum, a member of the American Bicentennial Everest Expedition. The package had nothing to do with the climb, or Blum's status as the first American woman to attempt the world's highest peak. It concerned pajamas. Inside were the proofs of an article she co-wrote for the journal Science about a chemical then widely used in children's sleepwear. The subtitle was unusually blunt for a scientific paper: "The main flame retardant in children's pajamas is a mutagen and should not be used."

The article ran the following Jan

Is Jousting the Next Extreme Sport?

Source: The New York Times. Published 8 July 2010.

The gates of the Gulf Coast International Jousting Championships opened at 6 p.m. one Friday in January at a 4,500-seat arena 13 miles outside Pensacola, Fla. Some of the spectators were dressed in leather doublets and velvet gowns; some wore jeans and cowboy hats or American-flag-patterned do-rags. Most seemed to have come out of idle curiosity rather than any previous knowledge of the sport. "From what I hear, the combat's going to be smackin'," a man named Paul Johnson told me, punching his knuckles together. He estimated he had seen the movie "A Knight's Tale" a couple dozen times, and he hoped this event would measure up. He lean

California on the Brink

The Golden State has become a wasteland of unemployment and budget deficits. Now legislators are cutting holes in what's left of the safety net.

Source: Newsweek. Published 28 August 2011.

Toni Sevchuck knows that budgeting is about making tough choices: taxes vs. cuts, parks vs. prisons, health care vs. schools. But as California's austere new state budget goes into effect, the 47-year-old mostly deaf single mother is finding that her own options have run out. "I don't get to make choices," she says. "I don't have the money to make choices with."

The state's Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal in California, stopped covering dental care in 200

Public Corporations Shall Take Us Seriously

Source: The New York Times. Published 12 August 2007.

The ring tone on Sister Patricia Daly's cellphone is the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's "Messiah," which makes every call sound as if it's coming from God. On the particular May afternoon, however, David Henry, who handles investor relations for the ExxonMobil Corporation, was on the line. Henry wanted to know if Daly planned to attend the annual shareholder meeting later that month — a rhetorical question, really, since Daly had been at every one of them for the past 10 years. At each she posed roughly the same question: What is ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded oil company, planning to do

The Frog of War

When biologist Tyrone Hayes discovered that a top-selling herbicide messes with sex hormones, its manufacturer went into battle mode. Thus began one of the weirdest feuds in the history of science.

Source: Mother Jones. Published January/February 2012.

DARNELL LIVES DEEP IN the basement of a life sciences building at the University of California-Berkeley, in a plastic tub on a row of stainless steel shelves. He is an African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, sometimes called the lab rat of amphibians. Like most of his species, he's hardy and long-lived, an adept swimmer, a poor crawler, and a voracious eater. He's a good breeder, too, having produced both child

Where are the jobs?

Scenes from California's Job Club

Romney says Obama "gutted" welfare reform by waiving work requirements. But what if there's no work to be found?

Source: Salon

As we stood in line at a Burger King in Sacramento, Calif., Joe Sisco gave me a nudge. “Look at the age of the people who are here right now,” he said and cocked his chin toward the three women behind the counter, each several decades past the age when manning the deep fryer might seem like a good career move. “That’s the economy, right here.”

At 55, Sisco was no spring chicken himself. And having been out of work for a couple of years, he’d had plenty of opportunity to study the job market. I had met him at

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