by Ibi Zoboi
@thesolereader on istagram
Summer, 1984. Ebony-Grace Norfleet flies from Huntsville, Alabama to Harlem, where she’ll stay with her father while her mother deals with the trouble that’s arisen for Ebony-Grace’s grandfather, Jeremiah Norfleet, one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA in the ‘60s. Ever since she came to live with him when she was little, he’s nurtured his granddaughter’s love of space and science fiction – especially Star Wars and Star Trek, both of which she’s watched dozens of times on Betamax. So even as Ebony-Grace struggled to make friends, she always had her grandfather and the imaginary words they created together. New York, though, is different. Hip-hop, Break dancing, Double Dutch, Graffiti. Harlem is a bewildering place for a sheltered country girl, and her instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street reveals that it has more in common with her beloved outer-space adventures than she ever dreamed, and by summer’s end, Ebony-Grace discovers that broken but beautiful Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.
Ready for Lift Off
Upon seeing the beautifully designed cover and reading the title, I was drawn in immediately. The cover is immaculately designed with a color scheme that mimics a sunset with hues of orange, yellow, and blue coupled with the posterior view of Ebony-Grace on a rooftop. The title, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, is catchy enough to grab a young reader’s attention. I was ecstatic to begin reading this novel, especially to see how the author could connect to younger readers. While I have never been a sci-fi fan, I was intrigued by the story mostly occurring in New York City, especially Harlem, due to the rich culture, history, and magic that ensues there. I absolutely adore NYC, especially in the summertime! I had high hopes for this novel and the potential for it to not only connect with younger readers, but to serve as representation for girls of color.
The “Overview Effect”
While I was apprehensive about the sci-fi nature of this novel, there were some elements that I enjoyed. Ebony-Grace would be considered a Trekkie, someone who is very interested in space and in books and films about space. [[Thank you, Macmillan Dictionary!]] I loved how Ibi Zoboi chose to build Ebony-Grace as this nerdy, space loving, black girl from the south. She challenges the stereotypes of girls of color and what their interests can consist of. That is highly inspirational and encouraging for younger readers. It made me wonder if the character was inspired by Mae C. Jemison, an American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut, and by N.K. Jemisin, an American science fiction and fantasy writer.
I also found great joy in the beautiful and sweet relationship that Ebony-Grace has with her grandfather, Jeremiah Norfleet. Ebony-Grace adores her grandfather and aspires to make him proud. He is her gateway to all things space related seeing as he worked as an engineer at NASA. Jeremiah frequently encourages Ebony-Grace to use her imagination and is incredibly patient with her, which is how she has come to develop her own reality inside of her “imagination location” that takes both of them on some wild space adventures. I found it interesting how Jeremiah is able to help his granddaughter understand reality through Trekkie connections, which has a tremendous impact on how she views No Joke City, also known as New York City. Their shared interactions were some of my favorite parts throughout My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich.
The novel is easy to read and could work in conjunction with ELA curriculum, especially in reference to teaching students how to make inferences. Also, readers who enjoy sci-fi based novels might enjoy reading this one.