Berry Book Review - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2001 Juniper Berry Magazine

Berry Book Review

Fall is almost here, and it's the perfect time for lounging, after dinner with a good book out on the porch or in the backyard. I've recently read two books that were mentioned on the Oprah show, on an Oprah Book Club book, the other discussed by the author on one of the shows. I know that not everyone watches Oprah, but some of the books discussed on her show or her Book Club are captivating and worth reading. So, even if these aren't on your usual list of types of books you like to read, I recommend making a change and trying these.

Icy Sparks

By Gwyn Hyman Rubio

Penguin Paperback – 1998

308 pages

We meet Icy Sparks when she is ten years old. She lives in Poplar Hollow, Kentucky, with her grandparents.

We learn right away that she has goldenrod hair and "yellow ocher eyes". But the depth of Icy's despair and fear is shown to the reading in a slow trickle of incidents and events that make her childhood a nightmare.

Throughout the book, Icy tries desperately to be a normal little girl. She asks her grandmother to put ribbons in her hair as she gets ready for her first day of school. She tries to play with the other children during recess, but ultimately, because she is different, she becomes alone, with no friends and unable to talk to her grandparents about her fears.

The story of Icy is the story of a child with Tourrette Syndrome in the days long before anyone even had a name for the disorder. The turmoil she faces as she tries to befriend her classmates, as she falls in love for the first time, is bewildering to her.

She is frightened by her uncontrollable twitches and vocalizations. No one knows what is wrong with her because no one knows that there is anything wrong. She does her best to hide her problems, going into the basement of her house or behind an old barn when she feels her body is betraying her.

The road Icy travels as she grows and tries to come to terms with her problem is a long one, filled with twists and turns. Not until she is 21 is she finally given a name for her problem. At 21, she has come to grips with her life.

"I have embraced my difference...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."

I recommend this book highly. I think it will bring the reader into the soul of a child with a disability, and what that child must endure to become the person he or she is destined to be.

Blackbird

Jennifer Lauck

Pocketbooks Hardcover – 2000

406 pages

The first time I head about Jennifer Lauck was on the Oprah show. The author was a guest on the show and she was explaining how she chose the title of the book. It came from the Beatles' sing, "Blackbird" – "Blackbird singing in the dead of night/take these broken wings and learn to fly."

The book is an autobiography and begins when Jenny is 5 years old. This book is well written, and is written from the perspective of a child writing about her memories. She describes her home in simple, child-like language, as a five year old would describe a home. She makes vivid the memories of her playing "dress – up" with her mother; putting on makeup and trying on her mother's clothes. She tells us about living with her momma, daddy and older brother.

Before page two ends, we learn that her momma is not well. We "see" the crutches leaning next to the bed in her parents' bedroom. We are shown the numerous pill bottles, lined up on momma's end table, filled with pills of different colors and sizes.

The book continues to enthrall as it progresses through periods of time in Jenny's life. We see the effect of her father's remarriage on Jenny, the many moves they make from home to home as her father tries to make a better life and her stepmother tries to control Jenny.

There are many events which strengthen Jenny and give her the motivation to persevere, but to put them here would give away the book.

Jennifer Lauck is working on a sequel to her novel. In the meantime, I recommend Blackbird as a wonderful summer-reading book, and as a book that will give heartwarming insight into the life of a child whose childhood began to disintegrate when she was only five years old.