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 was born in Macon, Georgia. She is the daughter of Mac Hyman, the author of No Time For Sergeants, the best-selling novel which was later made into a film starring Andy Griffith. She has had short fiction published in literary journals and anthologies, and her writing has been awarded grants from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Kentucky Foundation for Women. She and her husband, Angel, live in Berea, Kentucky.
— Gwyn Hyman Rubio, author
How a Special Girl Comes to Life
"I always knew I was going to write about a little girl who was different. I grew up with epilepsy in rural South Georgia. I decided to give my little girl a neurological disorder that would set her even more apart."
"I knew I was going to give my little girl Tourette Syndrome, and I knew a lot about her — but I didn't have a name. So, one day my husband and I were walking in the cemetery — it's not a strange thing to do in [our town] — and our eyes simultaneously fell upon the marker 'Icy'."
"And then, a few markers down, we saw 'Sparks' and that was that. My little girl's name would be 'Icy Sparks.' The next day I began my novel, and the words just flowed easily for me."
"I had a young cousin, Rachel, who died tragically at age 20. She was into performing arts, and had a beautiful voice — a lot of energy. And she had that beautiful, yellow, golden hair. So, that's when I thought about Icy. I decided to tap into Rachel's energy."
Keeping the Reader in Suspense
"I waited until the end [of the book] to let the reader know what was wrong with Icy. You don't know until the epilogue that Icy has Tourette Syndrome. I did that deliberately, because I wanted people to grow to love her."
"A novel writes itself. I thought the novel would end on a sad note. But as I wrote the novel, I began to feel healed, because Icy was feeling healed. And at one point, she just took a hold of my heart. She led me into a positive direction and into a hopeful ending."
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?
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?
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?
Icy's Tourettes makes it difficult for her to keep any secrets. Yet she never reveals what she saw Mamie Tillman do near Little Turtle Pond. Why?
Was Icy's confinement in the Bluegrass State Hospital ultimately a good or bad experience? Would she have considered becoming a therapist if she hadn't met Maizy and Rose?
Icy's fits are often precipitated by people who-even if they're pretending to be "syrup" like Mrs. Stilton-don't have her best intentions at heart. When she runs into him grown-up and "beautiful," does Peavy Lawson fall into this category?
When Patanni dies, Icy's relationship with Matanni changes. How does this help Icy to make the transition into adulthood?
What is it that allows the normally reticent Icy to "find" her voice in song at the revival meeting? When Icy becomes a therapist, why do "children as silent as stone" sing for her?
Icy's outbursts are usually violent and profane. How does Rubio use humor to offset some of her more harrowing moments?
Icy live almost eight years of her life not knowing that her tics and pops are symptoms of Tourettes-a neurological disorder. Neither Icy, nor her family, nor the members of her rural Kentucky community know whether she's ill, "crazy," or "possessed." If she had been diagnosed, would Icy's childhood have been any easier? Would the townspeople have been kinder or would they still have shunned her as "different"?