Icy Sparks
by Gwyn Hyman Rubio
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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Icy Sparks has led a troubled life. Her mother died just two weeks after giving birth to the young girl. Her father died when she was four. Since then, her grandparents, Matanni and Patanni have raised her.

As a small child, Icy has few troubles. Life in 1950's rural Kentucky is good. When Icy isn't at school or on her grandparents' farm, she spends time in town. She befriends an obese woman named Miss Emily, who runs the Feed and Seed store in town.

Time passes and Icy begins having trouble with her mind, It's as though her personality has split into good and evil. The children at school call her "frog eyes" because she has an uncontrollable tendency to pop her eyes out and twitch her arms. Icy tries her darndest to hide these urges, but it is no use.

Icy's troubles come to a head when her own teacher cruelly makes fun of her in front of the class. The young girl spews obscenities like a gusher, provoked by the heartless woman. By now, her secret is out and all the children and even some adults think Icy is a freak.

Her only friend is Miss Emily, who is a misfit in her own right. As Icy spends time with Emily, she comes to grips with the fact that she'll probably always be an outsider.

Of course, as readers, we understand that Icy's problem has a name: Tourette Syndrome. However, in the woods of Kentucky, nobody had heard of the disorder back then. Icy was merely an oddball to the townsfolk. Due to their ignorance, she suffered a great deal.

Gwyn Hyman Rubio's book, Icy Sparks details the heartbreaking experiences of this young girl. Icy is physical beauty is striking, but her actions scare people away.

As readers, we see Icy grow. However, she doesn't have the same experiences as other girls. Depressing medical treatment occupies her pre-teen development. Her 14th birthday present, a private phone line, goes unused because she has nobody to call. Her first experience in love dissolves because of her behavior.

I suppose you could call this book a "coming of age" story. Icy starts as a misfit with a hopeless outlook on living a fulfilling life. Gradually, she finds that she's not destined to be alone. She's got a purpose in this world and it's up to her to make the most of what she's been given.

However, it's hard to feel sorry for Icy. Perhaps I am a cranky reviewer, but I did not feel an attachment to any of these characters, including the title heroine. Rubio's writing style, though interesting, did not allow me as a reader to get close to anyone or anything. It was like looking in a window. I could see the story, the people and the events, but I wasn't allowed to venture further than that window.

Overall, the story left me feeling down. Even the generally positive ending couldn't shake the blahs I felt that each time I sat to read the book. I don't mean this as a criticism. I realize that not every story can be a happy one. I just feel it's important to note my reaction.

Frankly, it came as a surprise that Oprah would out the big "O" stamp on this book. Though the message and the end are somewhat uplifting, the overall tone of the book is heartbreaking. I picture informal book clubs meeting all over the United States. They discuss the merits of Icy Sparks for about 25 minutes. Then, being so depressed, they break open the snacks and eat until they cheer up. If your club chooses this book for its meeting, be sure to bring extra chips and dip. You'll need it.

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Icy Sparks was a 2001 selection of Oprah's Book Club
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