Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

81R4QqJ9qFL._AC_UY218_ML3_Clean Getaway by Nic Stone, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile. Crown, 9781984892980, 2020

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Adventure/realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Eleven-year-old Scoob and his favorite person in the world, G’ma, are on the road trip of a lifetime. They wind their way through the South, bound for Mexico and mysteries. Trouble is, Scoob’s dad doesn’t know where they are and hasn’t sanctioned the trip. At first, it all seems like a lark, tootling around in G’ma’s new RV. But some things about the set-up seem strange and G’ma’s behavior grows increasingly odd; she seems mired in the past, reminiscing about Scoob’s G’pa, whom he never met, and calling him “Jimmy”, a name shared by his dad and also his grandfather. Secrets come pouring out eventually, along with a fair bit of black history. Black-and-white illustrations every few pages break up the text and will help readers visualize the inside of the RV, the old Green Book and various landmarks.

I liked that Stone kept her focus squarely on the two main characters, ignoring tropes commonly found in middle grade fiction (crushes, bullying, lunchroom dynamics…) Scoob is mixed race; G’ma is white and G’pa was black, leading to a discussion about the risks they took to marry and have a child. Stone is a wonderful writer, especially when it comes to dialogue and character development. Scoob and G’Ma’s closeness is believable and lovely. A chapter where they ride every roller coaster at 6 Flags is especially fun.  So are Scoob’s palatable fears about whether G’Ma has lost it and his increasing loneliness as he gets further from Atlanta and his dad.

Anything you didn’t like about it? The plot underneath the road trip. I knew from the beginning there’d be some mystery to untangle (“Scoob” is William’s nickname, short for his favorite cartoon Scooby-Do.) But when G’Ma turns out to be a jewel thief who let her husband take the rap and go to prison, lied to her son about his father, never visited her husband while he was incarcerated, basically kidnaps her grandson, and turns out to have advanced pancreatic cancer, well, let’s just say the implausibility started to grate. The first half of the book was so strong, but by the second half, when Scoob starts to fear G’ma, the story goes off the rails. A little more focus on Scoob’s own issues (he’s actually been suspended from school for fighting and helping a friend cheat on an exam) would have been welcome. I’m hoping Stone takes another stab at middle-grade fiction soon.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Students in middle grades who want a mystery mixed with some history and strong characters of color will enjoy this book. A good recommendation for fans of Jason Reynolds’ Track series.

Who should buy this book? Middle schools and public libraries.

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 23, 2020

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