Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman RubioIcy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Icy Sparks

byGwyn Hyman Rubio

Paperback | March 8, 2001

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A New York Times Notable Book and the March 2001 selection of Oprah's Book Club® !

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.

Gwyn Hyman Rubio has been nominated for a Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award and anthologized in Above Ground: Stories About Life and Death by New Southern Writers. She is also a winner of the Cecil Hackney Award as well as a recipient of grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.
Title:Icy SparksFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 7.8 × 5.1 × 1.1 inPublished:March 8, 2001Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142000205

ISBN - 13:9780142000205

Appropriate for ages: 18 - 18


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Icy Sparks Over the years I have read this book at least a dozen times. Each time I take something different away from it. I will probably read it a dozen more times.
Date published: 2017-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Touching Based on a character who is behaviorally disadvantaged, we see how hard life can sometimes be. Especially for the kid who is always picked on for being different. Narrated by a grown Icy Sparks, we learn of her journey for friendship, companionship and happiness. This novel will touch your heart to the very bottom.
Date published: 2010-03-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Cheesy with a capital C This book started off promising. I liked it immediately; but as it went on, it got ridiculous and very UNBELIEVABLE and I couldn't wait for it to just END. I was so bored of reading it. I didn't care about Icy or anyone she met along the way. It didn't deliver what it promised. I usually find Oprah's books to be exceptional..it's one of the things that drew me to this book...that and the interesting subject matter. But it was CHEESY if I may use that term and I was thoroughly disappointed.
Date published: 2007-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from captured the time period very well The book was laugh out loud funny in spots and cry to break your heart sad in others. I loved it, it captured the time period very well. I recommend it to everyone who asks about it. I have no frame of reference in my own life for Tourrette's but it seemed to capture it very well. It also captured the fact that there was no name for Tourette's during the time period that this book was written. Surprising book!
Date published: 2006-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable I read this book for my grade 12 ISU, and I must admit that at first I couldn't get into it. But after about 100 pages I really started to enjoy it. The ending was also very satisfying and amazing. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good read! But just remember, it takes a couple chapters to get into it...;)
Date published: 2004-11-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unrealistic Because I am heavily involved in the field of mental health, I find that books the likes of Icy Sparks are often informative, while being enjoyable, and less like work. This, however, was a wavering disappointment. Perhaps the book would have been better if the author had done some research and realized that less than 2% of those with tourettes syndrome have audible ticks, or perhaps if she had known that, of this 2%, less than 4% slur curse words at random. However, I doubt, still, that this would have done much for the already faltering novel. I was also slightly put off by the religious implication at the end of the book. Not only did this seem out of place, but it appeared to be a quick, happy way to end an already meaningless novel. Perhaps the author ran out of ideas, perhaps she simply got bored of writing, either way, why subject faithful readers to such a mockery? Truly a dissappointment.
Date published: 2003-09-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Soulful The writer gives a description of the life of a little girl with terrets and what she has to go through on a daily basis. This story will warm your heart and soul. recommended
Date published: 2002-10-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stays with you When I first saw this book, I was hesitant to buy it because of the Oprah's Choice label, usually given to such deeply bad books as She's Come Undone . After reading the first chapter, however, I was willing to take a gamble. I'm glad I did. The book reads easily and with feeling. The author seemed to struggle a bit with cliche and decidedly bad descriptions of going through puberty, but the rest of the book was brilliant and heartfelt. The story of a young, quirky, loveable little girl with a neurological illness is fresh and well-paced. I was reminded of Anne of Green Gables by the main character, Icy Sparks. I've read some reviews which call this book boring. Perhaps these people could make use of Ritalin for their attention spans. I'm often easily bored if books don't move along, for example I was a bit bored by Anne of Green Gables. And I read this book from beginning to end without being bored once. The story and the characters stay with you long after you have closed the book,
Date published: 2002-07-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Icy Sparks Gwyn Hyman Rubio takes the readers breath away with the vivacious, spirited and dynamic Icy Sparks. Icy Sparks is an amibitious young girl that faces Tourette's Syndrome a neurological disorder with courage and determination, a true survivor of ridicule and segregation. Icy Sparks is the new millenium's pure example of heroism.
Date published: 2001-05-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Icy Schmecks of boringness Oprah's certification used to mean to me that I could read the book and be guranteed a good read. I am always hoping for another "She's Come Undone" but was sorely dissapointed with this story. It's starts off smoothly, albeit slowly, and you become entranced with Icy and what will happen next, when nothing does you sit there at the last page and say "that's it?!" As an avid reader since the time I was 5, this book did not entertain me at all, nor did I find it at all insightful, it was plain and bland. The only reason I finished it is that I never start something and not finish it, a good rule for Ms. Rubio to learn as well.
Date published: 2001-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thankyou Within the first few pages of Icy Sparks I knew the author was talking about Tourettes Syndrome. She was descibing my son! The further I read about the difficulty Icy had coping with her condition and how she felt going through it, the more I began to realize how lucky we were. My son was diagnosed in the 1980's some 30 years later when this disorder had become more known. So many of Gwyn Hyman Rubio's descriptions were right on the money. I felt I was inside Icy's head and feeling what she was feeling. How cruel those around us can be. Thank you Ms. Rubio for opening the doors for others to understand this disorder. I applaude you as a parent of a Tourettes child.
Date published: 2001-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent!!! This simply told story is that of a complex set of characters... Well written and a great read... highly reccomended!!!
Date published: 2001-05-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Icy Blah! Overall, this book did not impress me. I found that the character portrayal of Icy was inconsistent throughout the novel. A 10-11 year old Icy used some very advanced, sometimes poetic analogies that most adults would not think of using. Then a few pages later she would be speaking like a hill-billy! I also found the ending very inconsistent with the rest of the novel and it did not give me any sense of closure. I think it is wonderful that the author has chosen to write about a disorder that requires more awareness in our society. However this particular story left much to be desired.
Date published: 2001-04-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Corageous Story Icy Sparks is a young girl inflicted with the scary, and often misunderstood disease of Tourettes Syndrome. The reader will follow Icy during the trials and transistions in her life, the tics, and uncontrollable cursing as she comes to terms with her disorder. The novel is set in the 1950's, an era that was not understanding nor tolerant to differences. Icy faced community and peer rejection in her small southern community. The rejection that Icy experiences is unforgettable and her strength over adversity is courageous. This novel will evoke many feelings inside the reader and it is likely a very good representation of the time and the response to differences. I appalued Gwyn Hyman Rubio for bringing the issue of Tourettes Syndrome to the forefront!
Date published: 2001-04-10
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Icy Sparks One quiet evening I sat inside this Chapters store and picked up the newly released copy of Oprah's most recent selection, I found the introductory pages to be rather interesting, and purchased the book. It's kind of a simple tale of the maturation years of a young girl being raised by her grandparents following the death of both of her natural parents. School days are particularily difficult as Icy seems to spark the worst in people, - and of herself. Eventually she is taken by the Principal's recommendation and support to an institution where Icy doesn't fit in very well. She is average and normal on most days which weighs heavily upon her as she fails to see why she has been brought to this "hospital". She never receives a diagnosis, but ends up being released. Abruptly we are brought to her return to her home where years have passed. We drift to a religious storyline which in no way follows the life and tale of the story, but it's there! Surprisingly enough we are at the end of the book and havn't had a chance to discover Icy's medical condition, nor her acceptance/denial thereof. I found this rather odd considering so much detail in the story is representative of behavioural condition, she obviously has. The ending clearly jumps around not really completing any thought process at all. I would certainly choose any number of others over this.
Date published: 2001-04-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Anything but Icy I frequently buy Oprah recommended novels. Some I have liked and some I have not. I liked this one. Icy is anything but...this is a lovely, simply written coming-of-age book about a young girl growing up in the 50s who goes through all the growing pains of the young but has an added element-Tourette's Syndrome. She's a warm, spirited girl lucky enough to have people who love her for herself. You will too. Find yourself a quiet spot, a comfy place, a pot of tea and this book. You'll enjoy it.
Date published: 2001-04-01
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Surprise surprise I'm so shocked, I just about dropped a load in my Dockers. Oprah has suggested a book about a young girl coming of age while facing adversity. I didn't see that one coming. Really, I didn't.
Date published: 2001-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I laughed and cried I really enjoyed reading this novel. Very descriptived in Icy's behavior that she displayed at her most stressful times. I had to laugh at some of the situations she found herself in but felt so badly for her also. I wished there had been more about her life in between birthdays. It sounds like all she did was study and walked in the woods. I loved her grandparents and their unconditional love they show'd her as they suffered just about as much as she did. I hope this author writes more books I look forward to reading them.
Date published: 2001-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Road Goes Both Ways I found this to be a very moving and yet simplistic story of a young girl growing up in Kentucky in the 50's. In spite of a serious health ailment which isn't readily diagnosed, Icy Sparks proves to be very strong and full of spirit. The writing is excellent and you feel all the emotions that Icy feels. I found once I started reading the book I could not put it down. It is a piece of writing that continually draws you back to it because you keep rooting for "Icy Sparks". I look forward to more books written by this author.
Date published: 2001-03-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Gem of many sorts I have always bypassed Oprah's recommended books based on two factors: the fact that most of the stories take place decades ago and they all seem to be too emotionally intense. This one, however caught my eye. Icy Sparks is unlike any book I have ever read - it is a simple yet detailed account of a sassy little girl who grows up with Tourettes' Syndrome. With the characters' personalities, the slang and the scenery, you really get swept up, up and away into the 50's... you feel as though you are right there through it all. Although this book deals with a serious epidemic, it is fairly lighthearted and humorous - just plain good reading. From now on, I will definately take a second look at Oprah's picks because this one is truly a gem.
Date published: 2001-03-15

Read from the Book

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," I blurted, extending my arm and pointing at her face. "They're turning gray," I said, jiggling my arm at her nose, "right there." Patanni, spooning sugar over his oatmeal, snatched up his head and turned toward me. "Calling attention to a person's weakness ain't nice," he said. "B-but Patanni ..." I stammered, aware only of the pressure squeezing my head and the space inside it constricting. My grandfather laid his spoon beside his bowl. "Apologize, Icy," he demanded. "Tell Matanni you're sorry." "But Virgil ..." My grandmother reached out and caught his hand in hers. "What the child said ain't so bad. If them hairs turn gray, they won't stand out. Gray is almost white, Virgil, and white matches my skin." She smiled, caressing the top of his hand with her index finger. "It even feels white," she said, releasing his hand, stroking her upper lip. Patanni pushed back his chair; the legs scraped against the blue-checked linoleum rug. "That ain't the point, Tillie," he said. "Icy, here, made mention of your weakness like it weren't nothing." "She's just a child," my grandmother said. "But it ain't respectful," he said. "She meant no harm," Matanni assured him. "Icy, what do you say?" Patanni insisted, leaning toward me. "'Tain't necessary," my grandmother said, sitting on the edge of her chair, her large breasts weaving over her bowl. "Icy!" Patanni ordered. "Icy!" Matanni shot back, looking straight into my eyes. "Icy!" he began again. "Icy!" she repeated. I jumped up. "There ain't no fuzz on you!" I hollered, feeling the rubber bands tug tighter and tighter, sensing the blood in my body pooling behind my eyes, pushing them forward, so far forward that I could stand it no longer, not a moment longer, and, hopping up and down, I bellowed again, "Fuzz is on my eyeballs. It itches my eyes!" Frantically, I wiggled my fingers in front of my face. "They itch!" I screamed, fluttering my fingertips. "They itch!" Then, unable to close my eyelids or scratch my eyes, I covered my face with my palms and inhaled deeply, hoping that the itchiness and tightness would go away; but instead I felt my eyelids, rolling up further like shades snapping open, and my eyeballs, rolling back like two turtles ducking inside their shells, and the space inside my head, shrinking smaller and smaller until only a few thoughts could fit inside; and, terrified of the contraction, of each thought's strangulation, I threw back my head and cried, "Baby Jesus! Sweet Jesus!", and, not knowing what to do or how to stop it, I gave in completely to the urge: Out popped my eyes, like ice cubes leaping from a tray. Patanni and Matanni just sat there and watched my eyes spring from my head, but a minute later both pretended that everything had passed like it always did each morning. Matanni drank four cups of her mud-black coffee with a squirt of Essie's cream. Patanni finished his one cup, black with six tablespoons of sugar, and I drank my milk. All of us ate our oatmeal. I ladled honey on mine. Patanni preferred sugar. Matanni ate hers unadorned. No one resurrected Matanni's mustache. That one big pop had unleashed all of the tension, and the space inside my head grew large again, plumped up with thoughts. We ate in silence, and I sat calmly, as though nothing had happened. Still, after that Saturday morning, during the summer of 1956, the urges claimed me. I was no longer Icy Sparks from Poplar Holler. I was no longer that little girl from Icy Creek Farm--our sixty-acre homestead, replete with two milk cows, a dozen chickens, and Big Fat, the five-hundred-pound sow. I was now a little girl who had to keep all of her compulsions inside. Whenever it became too much, after hours of hoarding blinkings and poppings that threatened to burst out in a thousand grotesque movements, I'd offer to get Matanni a jar of green beans from the root cellar, a pantry-sized room dug from a hill not twenty feet from the back door; and, once inside, I'd close the wooden planked door and let loose. Every blink that had been stored up spilled forth. Every jerk that had been contained leaped out. For ten minutes, I'd contort until the anxiety was all spent. Then I'd climb up on the footstool and grab the Mason jar. With canned beans in hand, heading toward the house, I thought, Secrets are evil, and wondered what secrets my grandparents kept hidden. I listened to the crickets sing. Covered in shadows, their legs contorted deep in the woods; chirping, they gave their secrets away. A wildcat cried, mourning over something forbidden. Down a dirt road cradled between two gnarled, unfriendly mountains, Poplar Holler guarded its mysteries. So far, mine were hidden in a root cellar. Clitus Stewart's were tucked beneath his mattress. Mamie Tillman would throw hers into Little Turtle Pond. Everyone in Poplar Holler had secrets, even the animals, but I--Icy Sparks--knew that mine were the worst.

From Our Editors

Life is hard enough for an orphan living in 1950's rural Kentucky without the added burden of having an undiagnosed condition that causes facial ticks and uncontrollable swearing. Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s touching novel recounts the life of Icy Sparks as she finds comfort with the community’s outcast and makes the difficult journey from adolescence to womanhood.

Editorial Reviews

"Vivid and unforgettable...brimming with love and hope." --The New York Times Book Review"Gwyn Hyman Rubio's plucky, imperfect heroine Icy Sparks throws herself into life with a ferocity that cannot be denied." --The San Diego Union Tribune“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.” --Fred Chappell, author of Moments of Light“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.” --Francine Prose, author of Hunters and Gathers“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.” --Stephen Dobyns, author of The Church of the Dead Girls“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.” --Loyal Jones, editor of Reshaping the Image of Appalachia“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.” --Gurney Norman, author of Kinfolks: The Wilgus Stories