Summary and book reviews of Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Icy Sparks

by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Icy Sparks
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2001, 308 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 308 pages

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About this Book

Book Summary

A fresh, original, and completely redeeming novel about learning to overcome others’ ignorance and celebrate the differences that make each of us unique.

A New York Times Notable Book and the March 2001 selection of Oprah's Book Club®.. First published 1999.

Icy Sparks is the sad, funny and transcendent tale of a young girl growing up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the 1950’s. Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s beautifully written first novel revolves around Icy Sparks, an unforgettable heroine in the tradition of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird or Will Treed in Cold Sassy Tree. At the age of ten, Icy, a bright, curious child orphaned as a baby but raised by adoring grandparents, begins to have strange experiences. Try as she might, her "secrets"—verbal croaks, groans, and physical spasms—keep afflicting her. As an adult, she will find out she has Tourette’s Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, but for years her behavior is the source of mystery, confusion, and deep humiliation.

Narrated by a grown up Icy, the book chronicles a difficult, but ultimately hilarious and heartwarming journey, from her first spasms to her self-acceptance as a young woman. Curious about life beyond the hills, talented, and energetic, Icy learns to cut through all barriers—physical, mental, and spiritual—in order to find community and acceptance.

Along her journey, Icy faces the jeers of her classmates as well as the malevolence of her often-ignorant teachers—including Mrs. Stilton, one of the most evil fourth grade teachers ever created by a writer. Called willful by her teachers and "Frog Child" by her schoolmates, she is exiled from the schoolroom and sent to a children’s asylum where it is hoped that the roots of her mysterious behavior can be discovered. Here Icy learns about difference—her own and those who are even more scarred than she. Yet, it isn’t until Icy returns home that she really begins to flower, especially through her friendship with the eccentric and obese Miss Emily, who knows first-hand how it feels to be an outcast in this tightly knit Appalachian community. Under Miss Emily’s tutelage, Icy learns about life’s struggles and rewards, survives her first comical and heartbreaking misadventure with romance, discovers the healing power of her voice when she sings, and ultimately—takes her first steps back into the world.

Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Icy Sparks is a fresh, original, and completely redeeming novel about learning to overcome others’ ignorance and celebrate the differences that make each of us unique.

Chapter One

On June tenth, I turned ten. The Saturday after my birthday, the eye blinking and popping began. We were eating breakfast. Matanni was sitting across from me; Patanni was at the head of the table. To this day, I can remember my first urge--so intense it was, like an itch needing to be scratched. I could feel little invisible rubber bands fastened to my eyelids, pulled tight through my brain, and attached to the back of my head. Every few seconds, a crank behind my skull turned slowly. With each turn, the rubber bands yanked harder, and the space inside my head grew smaller. My grandmother was studying me, making sure my face had been washed, my hair combed and fastened on each side with the blue barrettes she had bought me for my birthday. While Matanni studied me, I stared straight ahead and glued my eyes, growing tighter with each second, on the brown fuzz above her lip.

"Icy," she said, sipping her coffee, "what are you staring at?"

"Them hairs above your lip,...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Through her grandparents' memories of her mother and father, Icy learns that she was born "a frog child from Icy Creek" with eyes the color of heaven's "golden light." In what way does the mythology of her birth help Icy to accept her affliction?

  2. Why does Icy compound the consequences of her fits by lying; either denying they happened or fabricating excuses for her outbursts? Is this a symptom of her Tourettes or a reaction to it?

  3. Do you agree with Miss Emily's assessment that Icy's affliction is similar to her own? Should people who are "different" form a community with one another? Should Icy have been less critical of Miss Emily's weight problem? Lane's effeminate behavior? Peavy's "frog" eyes?

  4. Icy'...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The San Diego Union Tribune

Gwyn Hyman Rubio's plucky, imperfect heroine Icy Sparks throws herself into life with a ferocity that cannot be denied.

The New York Times Book Review

Vivid and unforgettable...brimming with love and hope.

Author Blurb Gurney Norman, author of Kinfolks The Wilgus Stories
A most original work of fiction. Icy Sparks is an important contribution to the literature that helps us know the emotional realities of wounded people. It is also one of the few novels of the Appalachian region that goes beyond the description of external reality and places the reader in direct touch with the interior lives of its characters. Brilliant.

Author Blurb Fred Chappell, author of Moments of Light
What a grand person Icy Sparks is! What a wonderful book her story makes! The pages of this novel almost turn themselves as the narrative glides gracefully from sorrow to sorrow, from joy to joy. Gwyn Hyman Rubio is a marvelous writer. Too grateful to envy, I admire and applaud her triumph and hope that everyone will share it with me.

Author Blurb Stephen Dobyns, author of The Church of the Dead Girls
Gwyn Hyman Rubio twists together her dark and comic visions to create a world so marvelous and strange that it takes one’s breath. Her subject is the entanglements or order and disorder in a rural Kentucky setting of the 1950’s, and she turns them upside down in a way that challenges our own definitions of where and how we live. She is an extraordinary writer.

Author Blurb Loyal Jones, editor of Reshaping the Image of Appalachia
Icy Sparks is a work of imagination, about being different in a world whose difference brings separation and pain. Icy, in 1950’s Appalachia, finds community with others who also don’t fit in and acquires an outlook that is wise, serious, and yet comic.

Author Blurb Francine Prose, author of Hunters and Gathers
Icy Sparks speaks to us in an entirely new voice, painfully wise and wonderfully peculiar. In her original first novel, Gwyn Rudio makes us see that the tics and noises her remarkable heroine can’t suppress are the pure expressions of a brave and lively spirit.

Reader Reviews

Phil

Excellent - moving, endearing and will resonate after reading.

Liz

Icy Sparks is one of the best books I've ever read. I REALLY enjoyed it. I couldn't put it down. I had to read it for a class and I'm glad I did!

becca

Icy Sparks is a an excellent choice if one wants to feel and get carried away by various powerful emotions. The writing style enables one to experience the "real" and "imagined" situations the characters are undergoing. The ...   Read More

HollyK

A fabulous book for teacher education. Teaches sensitivity and tolerance. A+++

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