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Nic Stone keeps it real

Bestselling Atlanta author tackles current issues relevant to teen readers

Jupiter “Jupe” Charity-Sanchez is a stunning biracial girl with two dads. She is openly “into girls.” Courtney “Coop” Cooper is a 6-foot-4-inch basketball player, an all-around top guy who crushes on Jupe, suffering in silence because he’s straight. They are longtime next-door neighbors, best friends and busy students at Decatur High School. Enter Rae Chin, the new girl from Alabama, who captures Jupe’s attention, which bugs Coop. But he likes Rae, too.

This multi-racial triumvirate of high school students is at the center of “Odd One Out,” the second book for teen readers from Atlanta’s Nic Stone, who hit the teen literary scene in a big way last year with “Dear Martin.”

Back at Norcross High some 16 years ago, she was Nicole Bouie, mostly known by her last name, as in, “Hey, Boo-ee!” Anybody who attended a Blue Devils football game back then would have seen her in action on the sidelines as the school’s mascot.

“I was the buff and burly Blue Devil,” she says, bouncing her 2-year-old son on her lap one recent morning at the Peachtree Battle Starbucks. “I played that dude for two years. I had no chill. I constantly got myself in trouble. People assumed there was a boy inside that costume. I can’t tell you how many times I almost got my [rear end] kicked by the opposing team.”

In a way, it prepared her for a future as a fiction writer.

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“Part of the reason I write is that I get to inhabit somebody else’s life and persona,” says Stone, who also has a 6-year-old son with husband Nigel Livingstone. The couple met when Stone left Spelman College after her junior year and went to Israel for about four years and worked as a tour operator. The long, narrative emails she sent to friends and family back home made her think she might have a knack for writing fiction.

“Odd One Out” by Nic Stone

She eventually returned to Spelman to finish her degree in psychology and she met visiting author Jodi Picoult, the New York Times best-selling author of “The Pact,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Nineteen Minutes,” among others. Picoult took an interest in Stone, helping her nab a literary agent.

Appearing youthful in a long, flowing, apple-red T-shirt dress, no-nonsense socks and faded-white Converse sneakers, the 33-year-old author points at her footwear: “Kids see these and they know I’m with them.”

Stone is a regular at this Starbucks. She edited “Odd One Out” here and wrote two more books slated for release in 2019 and 2020, plus three short stories.

She nods toward her fellow regulars: “That’s Tom — a particles physicist. That’s Paul, he’s a solar company CEO. See that table by the door, with the woman? My usual spot, and I always face inside.” She likes the white noise and watching the activity behind the counter while thinking and tap-tapping on her keyboard.

Besides playing the Blue Devil, Stone was president of her high school senior class of 2003. In crafting “Odd One Out,” she drew upon endless thoughts and questions she had back then — contemplations about the nature of love, romance, friendship, sex, being true to one’s self.

Author Nic Stone

Stone made a big splash last year with her New York Times best-selling debut novel for teens. “Dear Martin” is about an African-American scholarship student at an Atlanta private school who writes letters to Martin Luther King Jr. to probe his feelings about prejudice. The Georgia Center for the Book named it one of 10 books “all young Georgians should read in 2018.” It’s also a fine, absorbing read for adults.

Stone wrote “Martin” with her sons in mind, dedicating it to them and also to Casey Weeks, her honors language arts teacher at Norcross High.

“He’s the only teacher who ever got me,” Stone says. “I’m anti-color-blindness. I was the only black student in his class and he saw me as that — as who I am. And he believed in me.”

Stone’s creative writing stood out even then, said Weeks.

“She was unafraid to put forth her perspective on something and could do it in a unique language,” he says. “No one else could say it the same way, use details so well and write such realistic dialogue.”

Social topics are at the core of Stone’s books. “Dear Martin” was fueled by the Black Lives Matter movement. Her release scheduled for fall 2019 tackles economic inequality. And “Odd One Out” focuses on LGBT issues.

Stone, who is openly bisexual, describes it as three novellas within one book. The story unfolds chronologically from the viewpoints of her three main characters, giving equal weight to Coop, then Rae, then Jupe.

Writing Rae’s section proved to be the most challenging.

“I had to learn how to have compassion for people who are different from me,” Stone says. “Rae and I are completely different. Unlike her, I have never been a people-pleaser.”

When speaking with teens on school visits, Stone tells them she is “bi,” explaining that one can be “bi” without the “sex” part.

“I’m pretty label-averse,” she said. “You can’t really put a label on love.”

In that spirit, she dedicated “Odd One Out” to “all the people who just don’t know.”

AUTHOR APPEARANCES

Nic Stone. “Odd One Out” book launch, in conversation with Denene Miller. 7 p.m. Oct. 9. Free. Auburn Avenue Research Library, 101 Auburn Ave., N.E., Atlanta. 404-373-6300, www.littleshopofstories.com.

7 p.m. Oct. 10. Free. Cobb County Public Library, Sewell Mill Library & Cultural Center, 2051 Lower Roswell Road, Marietta. 770-509-2711, www.cobbcat.org

7 p.m. Oct. 11. Free. Gwinnett Public Library, Suwanee branch, 361 Main St., Suwanee. 770-978-5154, www.gwinnettpl.org

6 p.m. Oct. 17. Free. John’s Creek Books & Gifts, 6000 Medlock Bridge Road, John’s Creek. Free. 770-696-9999, www.johnscreekbooks.com

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