Greyhound, by Steffan Piper

This wonderful book by Steffan Piper has many of the qualities of a YA book but is something anyone could enjoy. In the front of the book Piper states that the story is true but some characterizations and events have been changed to make it better fiction.

Sebastien Ranes is about to turn 12 and has been put on a bus. His alcoholic mother is getting married again and she and the new step-father want him out of the way. So he has a ticket to travel from Stockton, California, to a small town just outside Philadelphia to live with his grandparents and his sister, who refused to return to the mess of a household long ago.

Along the way he experiences a bus hijacking and a death. He is also pursued by an aggressive pedophile. But when he transfers in Los Angeles for the cross-country trip he also meets a man who becomes a friend and mentor, a protector who also introduces him to the poetry of Langston Hughes and the music of Chet Baker.

The setting is 1981. I made a shorter and more positive solo trip by bus at the same age in the late 60s, traveling from a visit to my aunt in Portland to my parents in Oakland and the people the author describes as well as the already deteriorating state of bus travel all rang true.

It’s a touching book in many ways. Not just because of the age and circumstances of the main character. The friend and mentor is black, fresh out of a term in prison and traveling to visit family in New York. As they travel side-by-side for thousands of miles Sebastien gets an introduction to characters he would never have otherwise met and a glimpse into the continuing racism his companion faces. Throughout it all Sebastian manages to remain resilient, funny, and creative.

It’s a unique book with a unique story filled with heroes and villains from everyday life and worth the time of any reader.