Review: Icy Sparks

Gwyn Hyman Rubio (1998)
308 pages

Vividly written characters and an interesting premise didn’t live up to their promise. As I read this book, I wanted to like it more than I did and by the time I’d finished it, the author had completely lost me.

A young girl with Tourette’s Syndrome comes of age in rural Eastern Kentucky in the 1950s. Title character Icy Sparks is brimming with personality and a strong narrative voice. The first, and best, section of the book begins with the onset of her illness at the age of ten. An orphan, Icy lives with her grandparents, a colorful pair who provide her with a warm and loving home. Trouble comes at school where, try as she might to hide it, the wrath of a cruel teacher exposes Icy’s affliction. Ostracized from school, her behavior eventually leads to a stay in the Bluegrass State Hospital.

The middle section reads like a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for special needs kids, complete with their own version of Nurse Ratched. Icy’s thrown in with a collection of characters, each with their own behavioral problem. In the third, and weakest, section of the book, Icy returns home having learned how to manage her behavior. She finds first love just as the main characters find religion. The book culminates in a tent revival meeting that I found extraneous to the rest of the story and quite out of character with Icy.

While I think Rubio is a talented writer, she seemed to be trying to cover too much territory in this book (hence the three different sections?) By the end, I wasn’t sure of her intention. What was she really trying to say about this girl and her syndrome? It made for an unsatisfying read when everything boiled down to finding God, which I found too much of a copout, pat ending. [**1/2 out of 5]


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