As a child in the 80s, I could relate to the main character of My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich. Well, maybe not as an African American girl in Harlem, but this book is full of pop culture and references of the times. Set in the summer of 1984, the story follows a 12-year-old girl who leaves her home in Alabama to visit her dad in Harlem, New York.
A fish out of water, southern-raised Ebony must blend into a culture of rap, break dancing, double dutch street life. And it isn’t easy. Nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich because she’s black on the outside but vanilla in the middle, Ebony struggles to adapt.
In the story, you could really feel Ibi Zoboi’s personal experience growing up in New York City. Also, she is an amazing advocate for a positive portrayal of black girls in fiction. She believes in empowering and uplifting role models for young girls. You can read a power presentation she gave on this topic here. Her character Ebony embodies these values.
More About My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich
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.
Why I Enjoyed My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich
Ebony has a deep connection with her Grandaddy. Her love for her grandfather and the passion and imagination he instilled in her is endearing. I love and miss both sets of my grandparents. They were power examples to me of hard work, compassion and loving life.
Harlem is a colorful and tight community. Ibi Zoboi really brings Harlem to life. As Ebony grows accustomed to her new neighborhood, she has to learn the rules and ropes of the street. But while her Dad and friends teach her how to navigate her new community, she also realizes the deep connection the community has to each other. Despite their differences, they back each other up.
The connection to NASA and the value of exploration and imagination. Ebony copes with her problems by escaping to her imagination. Encouraged by her grandfather, who is a NASA engineer, she often references historic NASA missions and copes by creating a space adventure around her. I’m a huge advocate for using your imagination and I loved how Ebony used hers.
My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich was a fast and fun read. Like Stranger Things, it has a ton of 80’s nostalgia. But it is also a positive perspective of Harlem as well. The book comes out August 27th. You can preorder the book on Amazon now.
Oh And Everyone Should Learn Some Fun Facts about Ibi Zoboi [Spoiler Alert: She’s Adorable!]