When a book is selected as a Book Club Choice by Oprah Winfrey, it is almost guaranteed to reach the top of any bestseller list that is worth being at the top of. Such is the case for Icy Sparks, a novel that tells the story of a protagonist who suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, not something that is regularly dealt with in fiction at all, and certainly not a condition that usually befalls a book's main character or heroine.
The novel chronicles the story of Icy Sparks, a young girl who lives with her grandparents in Eastern Kentucky in the mid-twentieth century. She is a social loner and doesn't get along with anyone her own age. When she starts to show signs of Tourette's, she tries to hide her condition because she is ashamed, and because it makes her feel even more different than she already does. Eventually she is isolated from her peers and placed in an mental asylum for observation, but she doesn't really fit in there either, because she is not mentally ill like her fellow patients; she is a perfectly sane person who has facial ticks.
After a troubled youth, Icy turns to religion where she finds her niche. As an adult, her condition is properly diagnosed, and she pays this forward by becoming a therapist and working with children who suffer from Tourette's.
Rubio drew inspiration from her own childhood when she wrote this novel, which was her first, and has become the work for which is is best known. Although she did not have Tourette's, Rubio suffered from epilepsy which she felt negatively impacted her childhood and forced her into a life of social exclusion from her peers. Critics loved the book on publication but it remained somewhat of a sleeper until it came to Oprah Winfrey's attention in 2001, when its upward trajectory was fast and meteoric.
In 2005 Rubio's follow-up novel, The Woodsman's Daughter, was more historical than retrospective, taking place in Georgia in the 1800s. The novel was a Book Sense choice and helped garner Rubio a Kentucky Foundation for Women grant for her writing.