Icy Sparks is the debut novel of Gwyn Hyman Rubio. Published in 2001 by Penguin, it was immediately well received by critics and the public for its sensitive and warm treatment of the reality of those living with neurological disorders. Shortly after publication, Icy Sparks was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and became an Oprah Book Club Selection. The novel has been included on the readership of many book clubs and has earned Rubio a name as a significant new literary voice.
Icy Sparks is set in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Kentucky during the 1950s and is narrated by its title character, Icy Sparks. The novel focuses on her perspective as an adult living with Tourette syndrome. Icy has only recently learned of her disorder; her childhood was riddled with hardships caused by her mysterious and unexplained behavior. Icy flashes back to memories of her youth. She was orphaned as a baby, and her grandparents raised her. Otherwise, Icy’s early childhood is like any other. But at the age of ten, Icy begins having tics and spasms and croaking like a frog at random moments. Icy becomes the brunt of the jokes of her classmates, and even her teacher is unsympathetic to her problem. Icy begins hiding in the basement to keep the reality of her situation away from her grandparents, but eventually they find out that Icy is sick. She is sent to a mental hospital for children with the hopes that she will be helped. But here Icy is also an outcast, and she does not feel that she is crazy, like many of the other children there. Icy is sent home uncured. Soon after, she meets an obese woman named Miss Emily who is also deemed an outcast in their community for her weight and her eccentric behavior. Through Miss Emily, Icy begins to learn about her own inner strengths, and she discovers her gift for singing during a trip to a religious gathering where she sees people who are stricken by the Holy Ghost. Icy eventually learns to accept her differences and begins to make her place in the world.