My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

My LIfe as an Ice Cream Sandwich cover


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Book Review

In My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich by Ibi Zoboi, Ebony-Grace struggles to fit in while staying with her dad in Harlem.

Plot Summary

In 1984, seventh grader Ebony-Grace Norfleet Freeman lives in Alabama with Momma and her wealthy grandfather. Granddaddy was one of NASA’s first black engineers. When he gets in some kind of unspecified trouble that seems to involve his health and possible affairs, Momma sends Ebony-Grace to stay with Daddy in Harlem.

Fueled by her Granddaddy’s stories, Ebony-Grace loves space and science fiction. The two have a secret game in which they pretend to battle aliens and save the universe. They call Harlem “No Joke City.” Ebony-Grace refers to herself as Cadet E-Grace Starfleet, Granddaddy as Captain Fleet and her father as King Sirius Julius. Her childlike nicknames and space discussions cause trouble for her in Harlem, especially with her old friend, Bianca.

When Ebony-Grace and Bianca used to play together as 9-year-olds in Daddy’s junkyard, they built a spaceship and had imaginary adventures. On Ebony-Grace’s return to Harlem, she discovers Bianca has changed. Like other girls their age, Bianca cares about clothes, jumping rope, rapping and break dancing. She and her friends, who all have lively ice cream flavor nicknames, laugh at Ebony-Grace’s strange obsessions and immature outbursts about space. They nickname her “Ice Cream Sandwich” because she’s chocolate on the outside, vanilla on the inside.

Ebony-Grace spends a lot of time retreating into her own imagination and trying to contact her grandfather on the phone. Bianca and friends pull Ebony-Grace into their group when they need a 10th person for a neighborhood breakdance competition. Ebony-Grace’s dad is the DJ. Ultimately, Daddy won’t let the girls compete because two teams of males show up. The girls are upset because they had hoped to use their prize money to enter a contest at the Apollo theater.

Ebony-Grace’s grandfather finally contacts her and tells her he’s sending money for a ticket home. She’s excited and plans for her escape from No Joke City. However, when she recognizes the depth of Bianca’s and the girls’ disappointment, she pledges grandfather’s money along with some of Daddy’s cash to fund their contest entry fee and costumes. Daddy publicly accuses his roommate and brother, Uncle Richard, of stealing from him. As Daddy begins to punch Uncle Richard repeatedly, Ebony-Grace confesses she’s the one who took the missing money. She gives him what cash she has left. Bianca and friends are frustrated that their dreams have been dashed once more, and Uncle Richard moves out.

Despite her struggles, Ebony-Grace discovers the rhythm and music of Harlem have a place in her heart. She learns to see the city with new eyes. She and Daddy return to Alabama when Momma calls to say Granddaddy has died. Ebony-Grace still feels hopeful about the future, knowing Captain Fleet will always be alive and well in her imagination.

Christian Beliefs

Momma likes to listen to Jimmy Swaggart sing sad songs about baby Jesus. Ebony-Grace hates Momma’s church because she has to dress up and gets pinched when she’s not paying attention. She says church people talk about Momma behind her back because Momma is divorced.

Momma’s church friends whisper about Granddaddy at Wednesday night Bible study, saying his soul is lost and there’s no turning back from sin like his. Momma tries to shut down Granddaddy’s stories about space by saying there’s nothing out there but their heavenly Father.

When forced to attend church with Bianca and her grandmother, Ebony-Grace wears a superman outfit, makes a scene and runs home. One of the kids chides her for her outfit because she has entered the house of the Lord worshiping another idol.

Other Belief Systems

When Ebony-Grace watches Momma singing Gospel songs, she suggests to Granddaddy that Momma has lost her mind. Granddaddy says she didn’t lose it; she just set is aside for a while and let Jesus take over.

When Ebony-Grace sees Harlem women moving their bodies to the beat of Daddy’s music, she notes it isn’t like the church women who would let their bodies go to make room for the Holy Spirit. These movements are not caused by Momma’s Jesus.

Ebony-Grace says all the church people try to convince her Jesus isn’t an astronaut, and she wonders why Jesus would want to stay in a boring place like heaven when He could visit other planets. She says Momma would whip her and blame Granddaddy for putting demonic thoughts in her head if she said these things out loud.

Authority Roles

Ebony-Grace’s wealthy Granddaddy was one of the first black NASA engineers. He and Ebony-Grace are close and share secrets. Momma is annoyed that Granddaddy encourages her obsession with space. She sends Ebony-Grace to her dad’s when Granddaddy has unnamed troubles, though she worries about Harlem being a bad environment for a young girl.

Daddy runs an auto repair shop and junkyard and is also a well-known DJ in his Harlem neighborhood. He urges Ebony-Grace to keep busy and make friends.

Profanity & Violence

The words heck and butt appear. Uncle Richard makes an off-colored joke about Uranus. Daddy repeatedly punches Uncle Richard because he thinks Richard stole money from him. Ebony is called an ice cream sandwich.

Sexual Content

Uncle Richard often brings scantily dressed women to his room. He pinches their rear ends and tells Ebony-Grace to pretend she didn’t see them there. A prostitute propositions Daddy in front of Bianca and Ebony-Grace, and he politely declines. Bianca’s friends suggest Uncle Richard may be a pimp. Other: Granddaddy and the news reporters wonder how a female astronaut wearing coveralls is going to get to her “woman parts.”

Discussion Topics

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Additional Comments

Drugs: A number of drug addicts hang around the neighborhood. Many try to sell items to Daddy for his junkyard to support their habits.

Lying: Granddaddy says that fibs are like deflector shields and it’s OK to use them to protect someone you love.

Stealing: Ebony-Grace takes money from her father.


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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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