E-Grace Starfleet is headed to New York City to stay with her Daddy. Her Momma has sent her north and away from Huntsville, Alabama, where E-Grace actually known to her Momma as Ebony-Grace Norfleet, has been at war on behalf of the Starfleet. Ebony-Grace's best friend is her Granddaddy, one of the earliest African American engineers to work for NASA there in Huntsville. Granddaddy shares a special world with Ebony-Grace. The two of them love the adventures of the Star Trek crew and in their minds they have joined the crew and are learning to mind-meld and fight to save Captain Fleet from the "hands of the evil Sonic King."
It sounds like a dream world. It sounds a little bit crazy to the other kids in Huntsville, Alabama. It's the safest place E-Grace has and she and her granddaddy call it her "imagination location."
Not everyone is on board with this "imagination location" concept. How many times has Momma told Granddaddy, "Stop filling her head with crazy stories since she'll be in junior high soon." But this is the world where E-Grace belongs. This is the world she wants to know more and more about. She loves to take things apart and put them together. She loves putting on her old t-shirt and her jeans. She wants no part of the press and curl hairdo her mother so painstakingly creates for her daughter. She wants no part of the frilly lavender dress she is expected to wear for her graduation.
E-Grace's plane lands in what she is now calling No Joke City. She's headed to stay with her Daddy in Harlem. She's headed back to her old friend Bianca Pluto. When E-Grace was growing up, she and Bianca made spaceships out of junk and let their imaginations run wild.
But the Harlem E-Grace lands in feels like another planet. Bianca and her crew, the Flava 9, look at E-Grace like she's an alien. One of the girls, tells E-Grace she is like an ice cream sandwich: black on the outside and white on the inside. E-Grace is quickly labeled Ice Cream Sandwich where the other nine girls in the crew all own a flava.
Bianca tries to get E-Grace to join them, to dress and talk like they do. But E-Grace's fears reduce her to defending herself with a cry of "Pew, pew, pew." (Wonder Woman being her best defense in the moment.)
For E-Grace her "imagination location" becomes a refuge even more than it was in Huntsville. It's 1984 in Harlem and break dancing is a way up. Kids are rapping and dancing and fighting to be discovered as their trapezoid earrings and short shorts swing and sizzle.
E-Grace wants to go home. She wants to get back to her Granddaddy. She's overwhelmed and confused by the new world she's landed in and the girl she knows herself to be is treated like an unwanted alien.
Where do you go to hide in your mind when times get tough? What world do you choose to live in when no one sees you, accepts you, tells you how wonderful it is you are who you are? As you read this story, you might start to get angry at E-Grace for not being normal. I got plenty mad at her. It takes some pages before you really begin to stand in her shoes or moon boots and really feel how tiny and claustrophobic her real world is. Her own mother doesn't want her to be who she is. She doesn't want to be a typical girl so she translates all the threatening outside negativity through the lens of a world that comforts her and feels like home. Stay with her. She has something important to say.
This is a powerful story about belonging and about accepting people for who they are. It's a powerful story about looking out of yourself to see and make the most of the world you find yourself living in. E-Grace has to fly a million miles and back, has to suffer through some major explosions, has to begin to operate under the Prime Directive that every Star Trek crew member knows so well. "Don't go trying to change things up. Maybe the aliens like it just the way it is. A captain has to change her mind to see a place with new eyes." Will the mission be a success?
256 pages 9780399187353 Ages 10 and up (Grades 5 and up)
Recommended by: Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com
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 Huntsville, 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.--from the publisher