Ken Alder


White Bus CoverKen Alder
The White Bus: A Novel
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987

 “Martin Luther King High School was build with the best of intentions and without windows.”

This is the opening of Ken Alder’s coming-of-age novel: the story of Ira Allen, a fifteen-year-old white kid who is being bussed to Martin Luther King, a racially integrated high school in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area during the black-power-era of the 1970s.  The White Bus recaptures the politics and emotions of the first generation of Americans who grew up with racial integration in the schools.  For young Ira, however, riding the “the white bus” is a choice.  Ira has defied his parent’s wish to attend a private school; he prefers to ride the “white bus.”

“To the newcomer, Ira’s bus looked like all the other others in the procession along the fence..., one of many standard school buses painted standard school bus yellow; but it was still the ‘white bus’ and they were still the ‘white’ students.   Even Marc Wadsworth and Rodney Yee—black and yellow respectively—were considered white...”
This is the story of a young man seeking to reconcile private privilege and social inequality, while working out his adolescent confusion in ways that are simultaneously farcical and momentous.  The White Bus is a novel of education.

“A first-rate novel: honest, tough, touching.  The White Bus is about learning to be a human being by learning that it takes learning to become one; and if this is a tale about adolescent self-righteousness masking as righteousness, then we are all adolescents.  Ken Alder’s enriching illuminations of a young man’s turbulence have a documentary immediacy as well as a lyrical reach.”
— Cynthia Ozick

“A fine, fresh sensibility unfolds in Ken’s Alder’s tale of a white adolescent coming of age in a predominantly black high school.  The compassion is clear-eyed, never misty; conflicting currents of feeling are rendered with honesty and humor.”
— Grace Mojtabai


“A superior coming-of-age novel about a white San Francisco boy from a well-to-do family who decides to brave the perils of a tough public school...  A full, well-written lively debut.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[The White Bus] has a sharp, often humorous candor about the liberal dilemma, various forms of racism, and family and classroom power plays.”

 “... A strong, important, unsettling novel, well worth reading.”
— Patricia Holt, The San Francisco Chronicle

The White Bus, Ken Alder’s deft first novel, features something rare in today’s cool-edged, minimalist fiction: a genuinely eccentric adolescent who’s concerned with the world around him, and who acts out of moral conviction.... “[I]t’s been a long time since I read a novel by a young, white writer that had black characters in it....  The many ways [Ira] devises to drive his parents crazy, especially once he turns into a black kid, and the rage he feels at being asked to do the simplest chore will feel right on target to anyone—of whatever race—who was ever a put-upon adolescent.”
— Martha Southgate, The Village Voice