Top critical review
A Clean Getaway Indeed
Reviewed in the United States on February 12, 2020
Clean Getaway tells the story of William "Scoob" Lamar, an eleven year old black kid, and G'ma, his white grandmother, and the road trip they embark upon across the American South. A trip for which they have their own motives: Scoob leaves behind serious punishment following a school suspension, and a severe father whose severity only increases after said suspension. He just wants to get away from it all and clear his head. G'ma wants to show Scoob places where history has been made — but also to deal with some unfinished business from her past. Issues that cause her to act increasingly erratic and shady.⠀
It's a great premise (love me a road trip tale), but I felt the story just didn't live up to its potential. Scoob at times felt like a real and modern kid, dealing with things while still trying to keep his cool, while at others he seemed too unrealistically passive. His G'ma's strange behavior introduces a mystery in the first few chapters of the novel, which is an effective way to hook a reader — having the main character endlessly wonder about said mystery without actually doing anything about it for the remainder of the books is an equally effective way of losing one. But it's the character of G'ma that I found the most problematic. She started off fine — quirky and goofy and lovable. As someone who grew up watching The Golden Girls, I love seeing elderly women as main characters. As the story went on, however, and her eccentricity increased, she just made me uncomfortable. Which I get is sort of the point. Scoob grows more and more suspicious of his grandmother, and we are supposed to be on the same page as him. Only there's no real actual payoff to this. ⠀
Look — this is a story that deals largely with racism. A theme that is explored almost exclusively through the eyes of this old white woman, who lived through the civil rights movement as the wife of a black man, in a place where this sort of relationship was still largely frowned upon. There's a wealth of subjects to explore, and Stone does an admirable job with what she does delve into. But then we finally learn the secret she's been keeping and how it affected her family, and it's quite a bombshell. You're left wondering how the rest of her family will deal with the shock waves. But it's all ultimately brushed off, the aftermath left to the margins of the story. G'ma is given a simple send-off, and the consequences of her actions are never properly explored. Which is a shame, really. G'ma is a character that is deeply loved and idolized (and idealized) by her grandson and her son. Nic Stone wrote that this was a novel about finding out your heroes are human — flawed to a fault. It just would have been nice to actually see what that entailed right on the page. Clean getaway, indeed.
But while the overall concept didn't work for me, there were still aspects I really enjoyed: this is a fast, fun read, full of interesting facts that I suspect will lead young readers down interesting, awareness-increasing rabbit holes, and that can only be a good thing. Nic Stone's prose has a few missteps (it sometimes falls into that common and condescending trap of writing simple for a simple audience), but it is mostly clear and sharp. This is the writer's first foray into middle-grade fiction, though, and I'm sure she can only get better from here.