Review: Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Icy Sparks “In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird and The Cape Ann, a funny, sad, wise, and redeeming first novel about a young girl’s battle with a troubling affliction. Rural Kentucky in the 1950s is not an easy place to grow up in, and it’s especially hard for 10-year-old Icy Sparks, an orphan who lives with her grandparents. Life becomes even more difficult for Icy when the violent tics and uncontrollable cursing begin. Icy’s adolescence is marred by the humiliation brought on by her mysterious condition, and its all-too-visible symptoms are the source of endless hilarity as everyone around her offers an opinion about what’s troubling the girl. Eventually, Icy finds solace in the company of an obese woman who knows what it’s like to be an outcast in this tightly knit Appalachian community. Narrated by a now-grown Icy, this first novel shimmers with warmth and humor as it recounts a young girl’s painful and poignant journey to womanhood–and the many lives she touches and enriches along the way.” – Goodreads

Isn’t it great when you’re so excited to read a book; you’ve heard so many great things about it, and you just know it’s going to rock your world and blow your mind and change your life, and then you read it and it is everything you had hoped it would be and more? Yeah… that didn’t really happen here. Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio had been an Oprah Book Club selection in years past and had received much hype from reviewers at the time of its publication. I suppose this is a case of letting my expectations rise too high so that I felt more let down than I normally would have when it didn’t live up to them. I’m not saying this wasn’t a good book; it was. It just wasn’t… as much as I’d thought it was going to be.

Icy Sparks is narrated by an adult – you guessed it – Icy Sparks. The story begins as Icy is ten years old, living in the Appalachian territory of Kentucky in the 1950’s. Icy’s mother died during childbirth and her father died tragically when she was just four years old; she has been since been raised by her grandparents, with whom she has a close and loving relationship. Shortly after Icy turns ten, she begins feeling urges – urges to “pop” her eyes, to jerk her arms. Her urges later develop into “croaking” and cursing. She is horrified by this and does her best to hide it from her grandparents and the rest of her community. She does confide in her adult friend, Miss Emily, who comforts her and keeps her secret.

When Icy begins Fourth Grade, however, her teacher turns out to be a cruel and punishing woman who singles Icy out and humiliates her every chance she gets. Soon, Icy’s secret urges are no longer secret and she is sent away to Bluegrass State Hospital’s children’s ward to be assessed and treated. While the doctors there are unable to diagnose her (it is the 1950’s, after all) they are able to teach her some coping mechanisms and she is packed up and sent back home. Upon her return, however, she is homeschooled and avoids venturing into public where she might have “an attack” and embarrass herself. Life moves on in this way for some time.

When Icy is fifteen, her grandfather passes away. Her grandmother becomes involved in a Pentecostal church. Icy is resistant to this, but is eventually convinced to attend a tent revival. Here, Icy finds Jesus. Life gets much better after that. She goes away to college. She finds out that the name of her disorder is Tourette Syndrome. She becomes a caring and loving friend, often to those who ostracized her as a child. And, partly due to her trials and tribulations, she becomes a talented child therapist. Most importantly, she learns to accept and love herself as she is – as we all should.

Now, I have read a lot of readers’ reviews who are all up in arms about the religious aspect of the last couple of chapters of this novel. People spouting off about their resentment at being “preached to”, their discomfort at having religion “pushed upon them”. Seriously? Get a grip, people. It is a book. No one is trying to convert you, or to preach to you, or to show you the way. The author is showing you Icy’s way. In a fictional work of literature. That is all. Calm down. It is amazing to me how worked up and uncomfortable people can get about religion when it doesn’t even have anything to do with them. Relax, peeps.

Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio is a sweet, sometimes sad, and often funny coming of age story about learning to accept yourself despite the things that set you apart from others. While it did not reach the intellectual depths I had hoped for, it was nonetheless a charming tale with a brief introduction into the world of Tourette Syndrome. I did enjoy this novel despite my disappointment that it was not what I had expected. I suspect you would enjoy it as well.

3 stars, sweethearts.

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia Digital Library

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