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Clean Getaway

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Clean Getaway Book Poster Image
Boy and grandma's thrilling ride through U.S., family past.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Civil rights history is woven deftly into the story as an 11-year-old Black boy and his White grandmother travel through the southern United States. Along the way, they consult the Green Book, a guidebook published from 1936 to 1966 to help African American travelers navigate motor trips through the segregated parts of the country. They visit historical sites, such as the home where civil rights activist Medgar Evars was killed in his driveway, and they talk about events from the Jim Crow era.

Positive Messages

You can't change the past, but if you face up to your mistakes, there's hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main characters are a Black boy in middle school and his elderly White grandmother. The boy's father, a single parent, is a secondary character who gets closer to his son over the course of the novel. Their family has some baggage, due to poor choices many family members have made. But this is a story about progress and redemption, both of the family and of the United States. Over the course of the book, Scoob's grandmother and his father both make amends, and G'ma encourages Scoob to talk with her about the choices that led to his being suspended from school and closely examine his motives. Scoob develops trust in his father and comes to appreciate some aspects of their relationship that he previously resented. Scoob passes through parts of the country that once saw racial violence and, despite a few unfriendly stares, is safe and treated well by most people.

Violence

Brief mentions of violence from the civil rights era, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evars and the murder of Emmett Till.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Mentions of Winnebago, La-Z-Boy, YouTube. It's mentioned that Scoob gets his name from the Scooby-Doo franchise.

 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One scene in which an adult drinks shots of bourbon and then drives a vehicle. It’s mentioned early on that G’ma is an ex-smoker with a raspy laugh, and later Scoob catches her sneaking cigarettes outside the RV.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Clean Getaway, by Nic Stone (Jackpot, Dear Martin, Odd One Out) and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwilean, tells the story of 11-year-old Black boy William ("Scoob") and his elderly White grandmother ("G'ma"), who run away from home in an RV. Scoob's strict single dad, Jimmy, grounded him after Scoob was suspended from school, so he's grateful to be invited on a road trip. G'ma, for unknown reasons, has sold her home to buy the luxurious Winnebago. The pair follow the route G'ma once traveled with Scoob's grandfather, Jimmy Sr., a Black man who died in prison. As the trip progresses, G'ma's behavior becomes stranger and stranger. She calls Scoob by her deceased husband's name, ditches and dines at a restaurant, and shoplifts jewelry. Then she throws her phone away so their movements can't be traced. There are brief mentions of violence from the civil rights era: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers and the murder of Emmett Till. There's one scene where an adult drinks shots of bourbon and then drives a vehicle.

 

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What's the story?

When CLEAN GETAWAY begins, Scoob, an 11-year-old Black boy is in an RV with his White grandmother. She's invited him on a road trip. Scoob is grounded after being suspended from school, and his dad has canceled spring break plans. Traveling with G'ma is a welcome loophole. Scoob soon learns that G'ma has sold her house to buy the fancy Winnebago. They set off through the southern United States, often consulting G'ma's store of old maps and the Green Book, a guide African Americans used during the Jim Crow era to find lodging and eating places that would serve them. Scoob learns that they are following the route of an unfinished trip G'ma took with his grandfather back in the 1960s. Scoob appreciates that G'ma shares old photos and previously secret family stories as well as some lessons about history. But something is off and his grandmother is acting strange. She drinks alcohol, which he's never known her to do. She sometimes seems lost in thought and calls him by her husband's name. She dines and dahes. He thinks, though he can't be sure, that he caught her shoplifting at a jewelry store. When she throws away her phone as they make their way to the Mexican border, he really gets worried.

Is it any good?

This multilayered page-turner is heartwarming and suspenseful. With every new development in Clean Getaway, readers learn more about the lives and emotions of Scoob and his grandmother. The tension rises steeply through one clever cliffhanger after another. A particular strength of the book is the way author Nic Stone weaves in civil rights history without ever seeming like she's lecturing or preaching: The conversations between the boy and his grandmother are realistic. She tells him anecdotes from her life, and then the two connect those stories and the sites they're seeing with his history lessons from school. Stone also does an excellent job of presenting this family as loving and supportive (and the boy as feeling loved), even as serious family problems are gradually revealed. She's previously published young adult novels, and this middle-grade debut is strong. 

Cartoon-style illustrations by Dawud Anyabwile do a great job reflecting the emotional depth of the text. This book could be a good choice for a reader who's relatively new to chapter books. It can also help parents, grandparents, or even older siblings share personal stories about historical events with young readers. Readers can talk about how current events affect their personal lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how coping with loss is portrayed in Clean Getaway. How do each character's feelings of loss affect the actions they take? 

  • As they travel, G'ma tells Scoob stories from a time he's only learned about in history class. How have things changed for African Americans since the civil rights movement of the 1960s?

  • G'ma repeatedly talks about her past mistakes and her desire to "make it right." What do you think that means? How do G'ma, Scoob, and Scoob's father, Jimmy, try to correct hurt they've caused in the past?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love family stories and Black history

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