Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Book review: _Icy Sparks_ by Gwyn Hyman Rubio

"In rocky soil, I, Icy Sparks, have blossomed. My difference has allowed me to flourish. Without it, life would have been easier, but I would not be me." -p. 307, Icy Sparks, Gwyn Hyman Rubio

These words echo some of my favorite lines in American literature—from Zora Neale Hurston’s comment, “Slavery is the price I paid for civilization and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think—to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep” and Langston Hughes’ poem “Theme for English B,” especially the line “I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like/ the same things other folks like who are other races./ So will my page be colored that I write?/ Being me, it will not be white./ But it will be/ a part of you, instructor./ You are white---/ yet a part of me, as I am a part of you./ That's American.” No wonder why I loved this novel!

Icy Sparks is, first and foremost, a book about empathy. From Icy's nurse Maizy Hurley, who wants so desperately to understand her young patients she nearly eats lead paint, to Icy (herself a sufferer of Tourtette's syndrome) attempting to understand her obese friend Miss Emily Tanner, her neighbor Mamie Tillman who has given birth to a dead baby out of wedlock, her gay friend Lane Carlson, and her "frog-eyed" friend Peavy Lawson, this thread runs throughout. If this had been the only message in her work, it would have been enough. But in her swift pen strokes, Rubio not only sketches life in 1950s rural Kentucky but captures a more enduring truth--she captures human nature, both the goodness like the stems and leaves of pokeweed and its poison roots (an image she repeats throughout).

Like the music young Icy sings in a voice so beautiful we can almost hear it, Rubio's song resounds in my soul. Like Icy, everyone has some flaw to hide or overcome; Icy is a heroine, but in the epic sense of also being an everyman; a symbol for us all. Her greatness lies in our ability to share in her trials and empathize with her station. In the end, her story becomes our own.

Icy Sparks is an unforgettable book--one that's hard to put down, and one that's message will never be put out of your heart.


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