Still fresh off the release of her latest YA novel Jackpot, Nic Stone is preparing to release her middle-grade debut novel Clean Getaway. The book takes us on a journey with William “Scoob” Lamar and his (white) grandmother as they embark on a road trip through four different states in Grandma’s RV. Along the way, Scoob learns a little about African-American and segregation history in the south. But Scoob also learns that his grandma’s history isn’t as straightforward as he may have thought.
Similar to her first novel, Dear Martin, Stone isn’t afraid to write about the difficult topic of racism. However, she’s able to include the same ideas in a way that’s easier to digest for the intended younger audience. (During a book event I attended for Stone, she referred to Clean Getaway as “Dear Martin light.”) More importantly, she doesn’t sugarcoat. Early on in the road trip, Scoob and his grandmother experience it, and though Scoob is still young, his grandma doesn’t try to “protect” him from reality. Throughout the entire book, she mentions how being married to a black man shaped her experiences. The subject matter is gracefully handled for its target age range.
One of the book’s other strongest fortes is only focusing on two characters: Scoob and Grandma. Doing so really allowed these two characters to flourish, and readers are able to learn more about the characters. First, we have Scoob’s grandma. This little old lady is chock full of nostalgia, and she recruits her grandson to take a trip down memory lane, one she tried to take years and years ago. Scoob, however, doesn’t know the purpose of the trip, and readers won’t either until closer to the book’s conclusion, making Grandma all the more interesting. Her vague and cryptic explanations about her past and the present keep you invested. Through the book’s progression, we learn more about Grandma’s past and the difficulty she encounters trying to face it. Stone creates a character easy to sympathize with, especially the more we learn about her. Her guilt, her sadness, her love, and her joy are all palpable and create a complex but wonderful character.
Next up is Scoob, who we primarily see trying to understand his grandma for a majority of their trip. I really enjoyed how he found more out about his grandma at the same time as the reader. It boosted the impact of the story. It also kept me engaged with Scoob’s personal journey and helped me feel more connected to him. Another aspect about Scoob that was excellently written is his emotions. There’s a little about his admiration for a friend in there (which is totally adorable). We learn about the anger and frustration he often feels, because of a bully at school, his father, and his grandma not always giving him straight answers. He also harbors a lot of confusion about what his grandmother teaches him about racism and segregation. But what I love the most about Scoob is that he doesn’t just accept answers the adults in his life give him; he questions them. Sometimes he understands, and sometimes he doesn’t. Kids don’t always quite understand their feelings, but when they read this book, they will see a character who’s feeling something similar to them and know it’s okay. Stone gives them a young character full of intricate emotions who grants them permission to feel without shame.
Though a woman of a many talents, one of my favorite things about Nic Stone’s writing is the point-of-view she chooses to write with. In her previous books, each POV lends itself to the story in some way and is always fitting to what’s happening. Clean Getaway is no different. She writes this one in the same POV as Dear Martin, third person limited. She grants access into Scoob’s thoughts in a way that helps empathize with him more and creates more intrigue with his Grandma.
Clean Getaway is another triumph from Stone. It’s humorous and heartfelt. You’ll laugh, and at some points, you may even jerk a tear or two (or 10, like I did). Stone creates suspense that will keep you guessing at what happens next. The dynamic between Scoob and Grandma is fantastic; they have tension, but not without love. Following their journey is entertaining and eye-opening and deeply satisfying. It’s the perfect introduction to tougher topics for kids and is a definite must-read.