Cover image for My life as an ice cream sandwich
My life as an ice cream sandwich
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6 audio discs (7 hr., 39 min.) : CD audio, digital ; 4 3/4 in.
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Compact discs.
In the summer of 1984, 12-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet makes the trip from Huntsville, Alabama, to Harlem, where she'll spend a few weeks with her father while her mother deals with some trouble that's arisen for Ebony-Grace's beloved grandfather, Jeremiah. Jeremiah Norfleet is a bit of a celebrity in Huntsville, where he was one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA two decades earlier. And ever since his granddaughter came to live with him when she was little, he's nurtured her love of all things outer space and science fiction--especially Star Wars and Star Trek, both of which she's watched dozens of time on Grandaddady's Betamax machine. So even as Ebony-Grace struggled to make friends among her peers, she could always rely on her grandfather and the imaginary worlds they created together. In Harlem, however, she faces a whole new challenge. Harlem in 1984 is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and her first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer's end, Ebony-Grace discovers that gritty and graffitied Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.


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National Book Award-finalist Ibi Zoboi makes her middle-grade debut with a moving story of a girl finding her place in a world that's changing at warp speed.

Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet has lived with her beloved grandfather Jeremiah in Huntsville, Alabama ever since she was little. As one of the first black engineers to integrate NASA, Jeremiah has nurtured Ebony-Grace's love for all things outer space and science fiction--especially Star Wars and Star Trek . But in the summer of 1984, when trouble arises with Jeremiah, it's decided she'll spend a few weeks with her father in Harlem.

Harlem is an exciting and terrifying place for a sheltered girl from Hunstville, and Ebony-Grace's first instinct is to retreat into her imagination. But soon 126th Street begins to reveal that it has more in common with her beloved sci-fi adventures than she ever thought possible, and by summer's end, Ebony-Grace discovers that Harlem has a place for a girl whose eyes are always on the stars.

A New York Times Bestseller

Author Notes

Ibi Zoboi is the author of two novels for young adults, Pride and American Street, a finalist for the National Book Award. She also edited the anthology Black Enough. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Born in Haiti and raised in New York City, she now lives with her family in New Jersey.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Rising seventh-grader Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman (or, as she prefers, Cadet E-Grace Starfleet) is obsessed with all manner of science fiction, much preferring her spacefaring internal life to the real world. When her aging grandfather, who was among the first black NASA engineers, is beset by unspecified trouble, Ebony is sent from her affluent Alabama family to stay with her working-class father in Harlem, which she calls "No Joke City." Homesick, named "Ice Cream Sandwich" by her peers ("Chocolate on the outside, vanilla on the inside"), and sporting superhero T-shirts, Ebony finds it impossible to fit in with neighborhood girls interested in double Dutch and Dapper Dan's. Instead, she uses her "imagination location" to create tales about rescuing her grandfather, the audacious Captain Fleet, a storyline illustrated in occasional unattributed comic strips. Ebony-Grace's behaviors present as neurodiverse, though this is never labeled in the text. The girl eventually learns "to see a place with new eyes," but underdeveloped subplots about her grandfather and her father's brother hamper Ebony-Grace's exploration of her second home. Even so, Zoboi (American Street) excels at resurrecting 1980s Harlem in her middle grade debut, expertly sprinkling in nostalgia-fueled references to break dancing, rap battles, and the rise of female MCs. Ages 10-up. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In the summer before seventh grade, in 1984, Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freemanalso known as E-Grace Starfleet, space cadet, in the comics she imaginesis on her way to visit her father in Harlem. Her journey from Huntsville, Alabama, to New York City seems more like a trip to a foreign galaxy, as she must cope with living with a father she hardly knows, adjusting to an unfamiliar neighborhood, and navigating confusing social circles and friendships. Adding to her anxiety, she soon learns that her beloved grandfather (the only person who entertains her star-filled dreams of science fiction, space travel, and adventure) is in some kind of trouble back home, and unfortunately for her, she will be staying in Harlem longer than initially planned. Throughout the novel, Ebony-Grace faces the challenges of change and of creating new relationships and community. Zobois (American Street, rev. 3/17; Pride, rev. 9/18) touching and (sometimes) humorous coming-of-age story highlights the importance of imagination and learning to celebrate what it means to be different in a world that demands conformity. Interspersed black-and-white panel illustrations that depict Ebony-Graces fanciful voyages to other worlds add touches of nostalgia and authenticity to an already-captivating character and story. monique harris July/Aug p.141(c) Copyright 2019. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Zoboi's middle-grade debut takes readers back to Harlem in the 1980s. Ebony-Grace lives with her mom in Huntsville, Alabama, and idolizes her grandfather, one of NASA's first Black engineers. Together, Ebony-Grace and her grandfather fantasize about life in space. When he gets into trouble and Ebony-Grace is sent to her father in New York, her first instinct is to retreat into her imagination location. However, it's only when she is able to merge her imagination with her reality that Ebony-Grace finds the courage to meet her real life head-on. As she endeavors to adjust to her new surroundings, where she doesn't feel like she fits in with other kids, Ebony-Grace faces each obstacle in her own unique way and comes out the other side with brand new friends. Because the narrative's focus is on Ebony-Grace's time in Harlem, the trouble with her grandfather is never made clear, but readers will nevertheless become engrossed in her story. Fueled with rich imaginative scenes and comics-style illustrations, this book will truly transport its young readers to another world.--Florence Simmons Copyright 2019 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4--7--A story about imagination and trying to fit in, set in 1980s Harlem. Twelve-year-old Ebony-Grace Norfleet leaves her mother and beloved, ill grandfather in Alabama and touches down in busy New York City to visit her father. To cope with loud, crowded, and confusing surroundings, Ebony-Grace retreats into her imaginary outer space world, which she has created with her grandfather. Unfortunately, Ebony-Grace's peers are not interested in pretending to be space captains--not even her sometimes-friend, Bianca--and she is mocked. But Ebony-Grace continues to pretend that she is E-Grace Starfleet on a mission in No Joke City to defeat the Sonic King and rescue Captain Fleet. At the story's climax, Ebony-Grace steals an envelope of money from her father and inexplicably uses it to equip Bianca's Double Dutch crew with new clothes and an entrance fee to compete at the Apollo Theater, connecting these actions with her mission. This theft causes a rift between her father and uncle, and they come to blows. Short graphic panels depicting Ebony-Grace's eye-catching imaginary space world interrupt the story periodically to engage readers. Ebony-Grace's voice is both young and incredibly socially awkward; readers may spend the narrative waiting for a big reveal as to why she acts both paranoid and much younger than her chronological age while being unable to leave her "imagination location" to preserve any social grace. For example, Ebony-Grace often speaks into an imaginary communicator, has a running commentary about being on a space mission, blasts kids with an imaginary weapon on her wrists when she doesn't get her way, accuses her father of putting mind control poison in her food, and thinks that the loud sounds of the city are sonic booms. Young readers may also have trouble grasping the 1980s references, which seem more suited to an adult audience. VERDICT Recommended for libraries that have a strong Ibi Zoboi readership, though the audience will be different here.--Shannon O'Connor, Unami Middle School, Chalfont, PA

Kirkus Review

Twelve-year-old aspiring astronaut Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman is lonely and homesick in New York.When trouble hits her family like an asteroid, Ebony-Grace, aka Cadet E-Grace Starfleet, is forced to leave her beloved grandfather and her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, to spend a week with her father in Harlem, New Yorkor as she calls it, "No Joke City." Determined to ignore what she calls the "Sonic Boom," New York's hip-hop revolution in the early 1980s, Ebony-Grace rejects the people, music, and movements of Harlem, instead blasting off in her mind aboard the Mothership Uhura to save her grandfather, Capt. Fleet. Stuck, Ebony-Grace works to navigate a new frontier where she is teased and called "crazy" because of her imaginative intergalactic adventures. Ostracized as a flava-less, "plain ol' ice cream sandwich! Chocolate on the outside, vanilla on the inside," Ebony-Grace tries her best to be "regular and normal," but her outer-space imaginings are the only things that keep her grounded. The design includes images that sho nuff bring the '80s alive: comic-strip panels, inverted Star Wars scripting, and onomatopoeic graffiti-esque words. Unfortunately, these serve to interrupt an already-crowded narrative as readers hyperjump between Ebony-Grace's imagination and the movement of life in the real world, transmitted via news reports and subway memorials.This middle-grade read is heartfelt, but nostalgia that's a bit too on the nose makes it hard to follow. (Historical fiction. 10-12) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



An excerpt from  My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich Chapter 1 These clouds are a concrete wall! The airplane won't push past the gray and blue to reach the endless black called outer space. So I have to take control. I press my back against the seat, push up my glasses, close my eyes, and pretend the plane is aiming for the stars and planets and the very edge of our galaxy. The seatback in front of me is the control board, and I press button after button as the plane blasts through the concrete sky and becomes the Mothership Uhura . It's star date 06.23.1984 and I'm now E-Grace Starfleet, space cadet, on a mission to rescue the great and wise Captain Fleet! "I'm coming for you, Captain Fleet!" I whisper to myself. The clouds part as the Uhura achieves Earth's orbit. Then, in just a few milliseconds, I calculate the hyperspace jump all the way out to Andromeda. This part sometimes makes me queasy because warp speed forces time and space to squeeze my whole body--along with this morning's breakfast rolling around in my belly--into an opening smaller than the eye of a needle. I've never thrown up while on the Mothership Uhura . Until now. Someone touches my shoulder, and I blink right back into the present, back onto this American Airlines Boeing 727, headed for New York City. "Are you all right, honey?" the stewardess asks. "You look a little sick." I shake my head because my stomach is a whirling black hole ready to spew out long lost spacecraft and missing astronauts. The stewardess hands me a bag just in time and up come Momma's grits and cheese and ham and eggs. There's nothing more human than throwing up. Suddenly, I don't feel like Space Cadet E-Grace Starfleet anymore. Even in this airplane that's supposed to be "something special in the air," I'm just regular ol' Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman, rising seventh-grader from Huntsville, Alabama. There's nothing out-of-this-world about a too-stiff white shirt, ugly pleated skirt, lace-trimmed socks, a greasy press 'n' curl, big ol' glasses, and a tummy that feels like volcanic explosions on the surface of Mars. I lean against the window to look out at the concrete sky, so incredibly close to outer space. The white lady across the aisle thinks I don't notice her watching me out of the corner of her eye as she lights a cigarette. Maybe she thinks it will settle my stomach. I take off my glasses, place them on my lap, and close my eyes again. When has the brave and powerful Captain Fleet ever needed saving? Never ever. Not when the Sonic King threatened to destroy the Uhura with a single meteor. Not when his evil little minions, the Funkazoids, led Captain Fleet on a wild-goose chase all over Planet Boom Box. And not even when Momma made Granddaddy promise to "stop filling her head with crazy stories since she'll be in junior high school soon!" But now I am the farthest I've ever been from Captain Fleet in my whole entire life. He has no one to help him when he faces the evil Sonic King. He is all alone as I make my way to New York City. "Of course the Sonic King took the opportunity to capture the great and wise Captain Fleet once and for all," I whisper to myself. This is where Granddaddy's stories ended before I left for a whole week in New York City. And maybe this is where they'll end forever since I am becoming a young lady and it is "time to do away with comic books and childish stories," as Momma said before I left. But Granddaddy doesn't always keep his promises to Momma. "Promise me I won't be gone for too long, Granddaddy," I had told him before I left. "And promise me E-Grace Starfleet will rescue that old Captain Fleet from the hands of the evil Sonic King," he'd replied. Granddaddy may not always keep his promises to Momma, but we always keep our promises to each other. "I'm coming for you, Captain Fleet," I say aloud. I don't even care if the white lady across the aisle looks at me sideways. Slowly, the clouds begin to part and reveal New York City's skyscrapers--the Twin Towers, the Empire State Building, and the Chrysler Building. Somewhere on those streets, John Lennon got shot. A lot of people get shot in New York City. Back in Huntsville, I would always run to the TV whenever I heard Pam Carleton and Robert Lane start their Nightcast Weekend News report on Channel 48 with all the very bad, terrible, and awful things happening in New York City. And I'd think of Daddy. But Momma always sent me out of the room before the news report finished. She does that almost every time the news talks about New York City. "I don't want you hearing about all that sinning going on up there in that town. You can come back down when Reverend Swaggart is on," she'd say with her hard-candy voice. "No, thank you, Momma," I'd say as I stomped back up to my room. Hearing about sin in New York City was way more fun than listening to Jimmy Swaggart sing sad songs about Baby Jesus. I put my glasses back on, tighten my seat belt, and search all around my mind--my "imagination location," as Granddaddy calls it--for a new name for this planet, a funky one with lots of soul, as Granddaddy would insist. Planet No Joke City echoes in my mind as if it was coming straight from Granddaddy himself. Ain't nothing funny about No Joke City! I let out a deep, ringing laugh just like my granddaddy's. It's not until the stewardess comes over to tell me that we'll be landing in twenty minutes that I start thinking about Daddy and his junkyard in Harlem, and my New York City best friend, Bianca Perez. Last Tuesday when he called, Daddy sounded happy to have me for a whole week, even though he promised Momma that this time he'd sign me up for a day camp with ballet classes, piano lessons, and math enrichment, as well as making sure that I get to a good church on Sunday. But he'd also secretly promised me that he'd let me play in the junkyard, even if it meant getting in trouble with Momma. Momma had been eavesdropping on the other phone line. "Julius, you better keep Ebony-Grace away from all those greasy men and little street urchins!" If Daddy keeps his promise to Momma and signs me up for day camp, I won't see Bianca the whole time I'm there. She'll be stuck in her tiny apartment with no TV helping her grandmother sew dresses for rich ladies. Bianca's definitely gonna need my help, too. "I'm coming for you, Bianca Pluto!" I say under my breath. Surely, I can use a bigger crew to help on the Uhura , and Bianca Pluto has already proven herself to be a worthy first officer. When the airplane finally touches down, I squeeze my eyes shut and I'm on the Uhura orbiting Planet No Joke City. I promise myself not to laugh after I beam down or else the aliens will recognize E-Grace Starfleet and take her prisoner. So before the airlock opens, I let out a giggle that becomes a chuckle that turns into an avalanche of big, bright joy. I laugh until I am a bubble floating up into zero gravity. "Ebony-Grace. We have to exit the plane now. Do you need help with your things?" The stewardess's voice pulls me back down to Earth. She is not smiling, so I quickly stop laughing. When I step off the plane and walk through a long, narrow, dimly lit hallway, no one welcomes me, there's no parade for E-Grace Starfleet, the granddaughter of the brave and powerful space hero, Captain Fleet. No cheers, no laughter, no joy. Ain't nothing funny in No Joke City, all right.  Excerpted from My Life As an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.