My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi (Book Review)
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Summer Stories for Summer Reading
I’ve always loved summer reading, especially as a child. Since schools wanted to keep students reading, the bloated lists had interesting titles I would have otherwise ignored. My schools always asked us to pick three or four choices from a list of ten or twelve. But to no one’s surprise, I read every title on the list every summer.
As an adult, summer reading didn’t fascinate me anymore. I became much too busy to imagine lounging by the pool or the beach reading romance novels. This summer was no different- I barely read anything. But I did have the chance to complete the newly published, middle grades novel by Ibi Zoboi, My Life is an Ice Cream Sandwich.
Ibi Zoboi (EEE-bee zoe-Boy) is a Haitian-American, young adult writer most famous for her books American Street, Pride, and Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Her newest title centers on Ebony-Grace Norfleet, a Star Trek loving southerner visiting her father in Harlem for the summer.
It’s 1984, and this Alabama girl is way out of her element. Most things about New York are strange and foreign. Some things, however, are exactly the same- like the way the kids tease her or the older women who suggest she has no “home training.” But that doesn’t stop her from opening her “imagination location” to make her summer as out of this world as it can be. Can Ebony-Grace adjust her new surroundings and find common ground with the people she encounters?
I loved the imagery in this book. Mid-Eighties Rap and Hip-Hop were on full display, with breakers and B-girls fighting for their territories. I also loved the way Zoboi introduced these aspects through Ebony-Grace, even though she came off as awkward and an outcast. Ebony was full of life and imagination, creating magic on the streets of Harlem. She is the Black Girl Hero that we all need. She never let anyone convince her to be less than she was. Zoboi used her as a way to pay homage to this thriving community, as well as embody a love of science fiction and aeronautics. All of these things made Ebony-Grace one of the best characters I’ve read all year.
What was challenging about this title were all the other characters. Ebony was not like the other kids, making everyone around her uncomfortable. Adults were dismissive of her ideas and autonomy, while the other children treated her like a pariah. When kids would stick up for her, they regretted later. Their conditions for accepting Ebony were never on her terms, so their acceptance always fell short.
The book is also scattered with Star Trek references I would not have picked up as a child, and hardly any of the adults in the story engage with them. I worry that that would distance a young reader from a character who found beauty and mystery around every corner.
It’s also important to note that I got the strong sense that Ebony is autistic, but it’s never mentioned- she was just simply weird and cared too much about something no one else cared about. Autism would not have been a word she would have known, but a child on the spectrum would see themselves in this story. I would hand this book off to an avid middle-grade reader or young high schooler. The language felt more advanced than a middle-grade book, but the character felt very young. I enjoyed Zoboi’s dip into a middle grade’s mind, and I think you would too.
What’s was your favorite read this summer? Leave a comment with a title you loved!