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The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It    by Lisa Shanahan order for
Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It
by Lisa Shanahan
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2008 (2006)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

'IN MY FAMILY, when anyone rides the wave of their emotions, we say they're 'chucking a birkett'. When the emotion drives out all common sense, we say they're 'chucking a big one'. The telltale signs are: flaming cheeks, shortness of breath, bulging eyes, and a prolonged illogical outburst.' In the town of Buranderry, Australia, fourteen-year old Gemma Stone shares the life, trials and tribulations of her family. Gemma is convinced that it's always unseemly to chuck a birkett. However, unpredictable events might change one's mind.

Gemma has a crush on a boy, popular Nick Lloyds, who's unaware of her existence. Her sister Debbie is engaged to marry Brian, son of Lieutenant Colonel & Mrs. Webster, and brother of Jackie, who is in a military training program. Gemma muses: 'Even though Debbie reckoned that Brian was athletic, there was something about him that reminded me of a brown, parched rubber band.'

The night comes for the Stones to meet Brian's family. In the mish-mash of the evening's happenings, Mum chucks a birkett for the first time ever - well-deserved after Lt. Webster suggests the possibility of poor genes in the Stone family. Wedding plans go forward, however, as the parents reconcile. Debbie insists that Gemma and Jackie be flower girls and, given the wedding's animal motif, that Gemma wear a duck costume! But military Jackie's standard wear is fatigues, a red beret, and black boots.

Raven De Head, who faces school detention often, comes from a family of brothers all named after birds: Crow, Magpie, Sparrow, and Robin. Some have been in the clink more than a few times for stealing. Gemma takes Nick's suggestion that she try out for the school play, Shakespeare's The Tempest. When she shows up for auditions, Raven shows up as well. When they're split into pairs to practice roles, Gemma ends up with Raven, who to everyone's surprise is well-versed in Shakespeare.

When Gemma asks Mum, 'Does life get easier as you get older?' she answers that it becomes 'like marbled chocolate. When you'e younger, it's like Top Deck. The white chocolate sits flush on the dark chocolate, but separate from it. The joyful things in life are clear and distinct from the sad. But as you get older, it gets muddled. The good comes with the sad ... And it's not so clear. Life's not harder or easier. It's just both, all whirled into one.'

Shanahan deftly interweaves an engaging plot, strong characters, and hilarity (you don't want to miss the issue of plans for building a shopping mall, the pros, cons, and food fights) with serious, profound moments, too. And along the way, Gemma learns that a birkett can be a beautiful thing.

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