ICY SPARKS by Gwyn Hyman Rubio


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An overwritten, underdeveloped story celebrating Appalachia and a young woman who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome.

Kentucky’s backwoodsy mountains are the setting for this chronicle of a girl who, as an infant, was called —Icy— by her dying mother because she was as “cold as the bottom of Icy creek.” Here in the hollows, where coal is still mined, country ways prevail: people are mostly kind, but ignorance and fear can also make them behave cruelly. Descriptions (of them and the countryside) augment the rather thin tale of Icy, for the most part a sequence of vivid and brutal set-pieces: the girl’s encounter with a sadistic fourth-grade teacher; her spell in the state asylum; her first and failed romance at 13. Icy also does a lot of walking around the hollows and visiting with her family and few good friends. Lovingly raised by her grandparents, and befriended by the overweight Miss Emily, who encourages Icy to dream of college and a different life, she first experiences alarming symptoms at age ten. When stressed, she begins croaking like a frog, her eyes pop, and she helplessly lets loose a string of offensive epithets. But it’s the 1950s, and not even the kindly asylum’s doctor knows what’s wrong. Once she’s home again, Icy (called —Frog Child— by some), now shunned by her peers and feared by the locals, leads a lonely life studying the books provided by Miss Emily and a generous school principal. When her grandfather dies, her grandmother joins a church, and Icy, persuaded to come along, learns that her beautiful singing voice can be an asset to the choir. Eventually, this will win her the acceptance she’s long yearned for. An epilogue details the diagnosis she receives at college, which finally vindicates her.

Well intentioned, for sure, but Icy is too much the poster child for great success as fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-87311-X
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998


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