Nic Stone’s ‘Clean Getaway’ explores a mixed-race family and a travel adventure

Mary Quattlebaum

THE WASHINGTON POST – When she visits schools, author Nic Stone passes around a piece of history – and observes as the kids react.

“They leaf through it, and their faces fill with shock and wonder,” she told KidsPost recently by phone.

Stone is talking about The Travelers’ Green Book her reprint of a guide used by African Americans travelling in the United States (US) during part of the 20th Century. It was published, with changes to title and content, from 1936 to 1966, and it listed the restaurants, hotels and gas stations that served black people. At that time, much of the US was segregated, especially the South. While on the road, African Americans needed to know which towns and places were safe and helpful.

In Stone’s new novel Clean Getaway, main character William Lamar, nicknamed “Scoob”, and his grandmother use her guide from 1963 for a present-day adventure. They are trying to re-create the trip that she and her husband had planned but couldn’t complete in 1968. With Scoob, G’ma is determined to drive across five states, from Georgia to Mexico, in a large RV. That’s a lot of miles!

But Scoob is up for the adventure. It’s spring break, and he’s eager to escape recent trouble at school. And he would rather spend time with funny, lively G’ma than his fuming, disappointed father.

Stone didn’t know about the guide, often referred to as the ‘Green Book’ when she started writing. But as soon as friend and author Dhonielle Clayton described it, Stone realised the guide would be key to her story.

Now when she travels, Stone carries the guide with her. As an African American woman, she’s curious: Which places may have been safe from racial prejudice for her 60 or 70 years ago?

“I like to examine the way we teach history to young people,” Stone said. She wonders whether adults sometimes “rewrite it” to make it less frightening or more agreeable.

In Clean Getaway Scoob learns about the prejudice and dangers faced by his black grandfather, who died before Scoob was born, and his white G’ma.

Back then, people could be unfriendly, even cruel, to mixed-race couples. And along the way, Scoob learns about a big secret that G’ma carried for years, tucked inside a small wooden box.

Stone wanted to explore the relationships in mixed-race families. Like Scoob, her two young sons have a white grandmother, who is from Russia, and a black grandfather, from Nigeria.

Scoob is very close to G’ma, and he thinks she understands him much better than does his hard-working, serious father.

Stone shared a few similarities with her character. Like Scoob, she was born and raised close to Atlanta (and still lives there). And she, too, goes by a nickname. It’s part of what she calls her “perfect pen name”: Nic Stone. Her full name is Andrea Nicole Livingstone.

Unlike Scoob, Stone, as a kid, was an avid reader of books, ranging from the early reader series Mrs Piggle-Wiggle to adult science fiction, including Jurassic Park.

“But writing never crossed my mind,” she said about a childhood spent playing basketball, cheerleading and making friendship bracelets. “I think it’s because I never saw any authors who looked like me,” with darker skin.

She’s helping change that perception for today’s young readers. She wrote several books for teens before Clean Getaway, and in May she publishes another middle-grade novel: Shuri. It’s about the little sister of T’Challa, the Black Panther from Marvel Comics.

“Shuri is the smartest person on Earth, so I had to work hard to get the facts right,” Stone said with a laugh. Research took her to a physicist and experts in cybersecurity and electromagnetism. She even had to figure out how a hovercraft works.

For a writer, each book is a journey with her characters. Stone loves to travel in the real world, including a recent trip to Hawaii, she said. What happened to Scoob on his road trip often happens to her.

“You get so much perspective from stepping out of your usual routine,” she said. “You see the world and people you know in a different way.”