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Icy Sparks (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – March 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The eponymous heroine of Gwyn Rubio's Icy Sparks is only 10 years old the first time it happens. The sudden itching, the pressure squeezing her skull, and the "little invisible rubber bands" attached to her eyelids are all symptoms of Tourette's syndrome. At this point, of course, Icy doesn't yet have a name for these unsettling impulses. But whenever they become too much to resist, she runs down to her grandparents' root cellar, and there she gives in, croaking, jerking, cursing, and popping her eyes. Nicknamed the "frog child" by her classmates, Icy soon becomes "a little girl who had to keep all of her compulsions inside." Only a brief confinement at the Bluegrass State Hospital persuades her that there are actually children more "different" than she.

As a first novel about growing up poor, orphaned, and prone to fits in a small Appalachian town, Icy Sparks tells a fascinating story. By the time the epilogue rolls around, Icy has prevailed over her disorder and become a therapist: "Children silent as stone sing for me. Children who cannot speak create music for me." For readers familiar with this particular brand of coming-of-age novel--affliction fiction?--Icy's triumph should come as no great surprise. That's one problem. Another is Rubio's tendency to lapse into overheated prose: this is a novel in which the characters would sooner yell, pout, whine, moan, or sass a sentence than simply say it. But the real drawback to Icy Sparks is that some of the characters--especially the bad ones--are drawn with very broad strokes indeed, and the moral principles tend to be equally elementary: embrace your difference, none of us is alone, and so on. When Icy gets saved at a tent revival, even Jesus takes on the accents of a self-help guru: "You must love yourself!" With insights like these, this is one Southern novel that's more Wally Lamb than Harper Lee. --Mary Park

From Publishers Weekly

The diagnosis of Tourette's Syndrome isn't mentioned until the last pages of Rubio's sensitive portrayal of a young girl with the disease. Instead, Rubio lets Icy Sparks tell her own story of growing up during the 1950s in a small Kentucky town where her uncontrollable outbursts make her an object of fright and scorn. "The Saturday after my [10th] birthday, the eye blinking and poppings began.... I could feel little invisible rubber bands fastened to my eyelids, pulled tight through my brain and attached to the back of my head," says Icy, who thinks of herself as the "frog child from Icy Creek." Orphaned and cared for by her loving grandparents, Icy weathers the taunts of a mean schoolteacher and, later, a crush on a boy that ends in disappointment. But she also finds real friendship with the enormously fat Miss Emily, who offers kindness and camaraderie. Rubio captures Icy's feelings of isolation and brings poignancy and drama to Icy's childhood experiences, to her temporary confinement in a mental institution and to her reluctant introduction?thanks to Miss Emily and Icy's grandmother?to the Pentecostal church through which she discovers her singing talent. If Rubio sometimes loses track of Icy's voice, indulges in unconvincing magical realism and takes unearned poetic license with the speech of her Appalachian grandparents ("'Your skin was as cold as fresh springwater, slippery and strangely soothing to touch'"), her first novel is remarkable for its often funny portrayal of a child's fears, loves and struggles with an affliction she doesn't know isn't her fault. Agent, Susan Golomb; editor, Jane von Mehren.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Oprah's Book Club
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142000205
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142000205
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (291 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gwyn grew up in south Georgia, in the small town of Cordele. Her father was Mac Hyman who wrote the bestseller No Time for Sergeants. The novel was turned into a play and a film, starring Andy Griffith. Her first novel Icy Sparks was NYT bestseller and a NYT Notable Book of 1998. Her latest novel, Love & ordinary Creatures, will be published in October 2014 by Ashland Creek Press. Please learn more about upcoming events at www.gwynhymanrubio.com

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Donald Harington dharingt@comp.uark.edu on July 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
I would like to counteract the following customer comments from "a reader in the Appalachian mountains," who was so bored by the book. His or her remarks are shortsighted, even malicious, and should not be heeded by thoughtful readers looking for good fiction.
That customer gives himself (or herself) away as a small-time, limited reader by remarking against "the idea that a child of 10 years old could have such mature thoughts." In the first place, such a reader probably never encountered Huck Finn, who could have such mature thoughts at the age of 14, or Jo, who could have such mature thoughts in LITTLE WOMEN. In the second place, that reader fails to notice that the book is written by Icy Sparks as a grown-up, looking back on her early years.
ICY SPARKS tells the story of how an orphaned girl in the Kentucky mountains comes to grips with a terrible affliction, the "cussing disease," that years later she will identify as Tourette's Syn! drome. Her behavior mystifies her community and causes her great humiliation, particularly among her classmates, who call her the "Frog Child."
But her condition of being an outcast, which leads eventually to incarceration in a children's asylum, should be understood as a metaphor for the condition of anyone who is a loner, a misfit, a stranger to "conventional" society.
How she learns to live with her condition, and how she triumphs over it, makes a compelling story that will entertain and instruct any reader...except the sort of misguided soul who wrote the following unfortunate words:
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By fisher on March 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was a gift to me from a person who recognized the difficulties a family faces when a child has Tourette Syndrome. It follows the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of a girl in the 1950's with a condition that we now know as Tourette Syndrome, but back then, and in that area, was simply called "the fits." We see the heroine as a person first, even a delightful and insightful person, but one whose symptoms are misunderstood, and who sometimes endures egregious "treatments" that never cure her "problem."
Today, we consider ourselves "enlightened" in our views of Tourette Syndrome, but I can report that this is only true in the abstract. Revulsion toward people who cannot control some movements or noises continues even to this day, and prevents their full acceptance and participation in activities that we 'normal' people take for granted; attending church, being allowed in a 'normal' classroom, being accepted by 'normal' peers. The book details how cruelly a likable and talented girl is treated because of her differentness in the 1950's, but it is not so far from the truth of what sometimes happens today to these defenseless and innocent children.
This book could have descended into the misery these people often suffer, but instead it's a book of self discovery, and even triumphs. There is a hilarious passage where Icy is involved in her first relationship with a boy. Although she has Tourette's, we know her as a teenage girl first. We can all identify with the awkwardness that she encounters in what she might have expected to be a romantic interlude.
The book follows Icy to early adulthood, with the scars but also the self knowledge that Icy carries like a veteran.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert G Yokoyama VINE VOICE on March 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading this book, because I learned about a subject I knew nothing about before. This is a wonderful coming of age novel set in rural Kentucky in the 1950's. The main character is an orphan named Icy Sparks. She suffers from Tourette's syndrome which causes her body to jerk involuntarily. Tourettes also causes Icy to repeat curse words uncontrollably. This condition leads to much embarassment at school in her early years. She is teased and shunned by her classmates. Icy spends some time in a mental hospital upon the suggestion of her school principal and grandparents. She makes friends with other disabled people there. She also learns new ways to deal with her disorder during her stay. Miss Emily is a compassionate fat woman. She is Icy's best friend throughout the book. I loved the relationship between these two characters. She teaches Icy her academic subjects and about life too. I loved the ending of the book. It is so touching when Icy finally finds her gift. I highly recommend Icy Sparks.
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58 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Michelle A. Thomas on July 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gwyn Hyman Rubio's "Icy Sparks" is an exceptional book. She has created an unforgettable character in Icy -- a young girl suffering from Tourette's syndrome. Set in rural Kentucky during the late 1950s and early 1960s, the reader is consistently challenged to question their response to the incidents and situations that occur in this novel.
The book is so rich in detail that the reader is often left feeling as though they have actually witnessed one of Icy's outbursts. The question is -- from which point of view? One of Gwyn Hyman Rubio's strongest assets is her ability to convey the shock and horror of those around Icy as she "jerks" and "croaks," while at the same time describe Icy's self-hatred of the inablity to control her body.
In the end, this book is not simply about Tourrette's syndrome. It is about human igonrance, fear and tolerance. I would highly recommend it to anyone.
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