My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

Dutton. Aug. 2019. 256p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399187353.
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

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