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Once Was Lost Hardcover – October 1, 2009
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*Starred Review* It’s the end of a long, hot summer, and nothing is right. Samara’s mother is in rehab, her father, a popular pastor in their small town, is always busy, too busy for Sam anyway, and then something shocking happens. Jody, a 13-year-old girl, a member of their church, disappears. As the days drag on, Sam finds herself drawing away from her friends and her father, who has a secret she easily guesses, and instead spending time with Nick, Jody’s brother, who may or may not be a suspect in the disappearance. Zarr sets a hard task for herself here: interweaving a number of strong story strands and giving them equal weight, even as she tightens the whole with questions about faith and God. While her relationship with Nick does not always seem quite credible, everything else comes together as an impressive whole. Sharply delineated characters and an uncomfortable atmosphere that’s more than just the heat add to the story’s depth. Grades 8-10. --Ilene Cooper
About the Author
Sara Zarr was raised in San Francisco, went to high school in Pacifica, California, and now lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the author of Sweethearts and the National Book Award finalist, Story of a Girl and can be found on the web at www.sarazarr.com.
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Sam’s “perfect life” begins to crumble – her mother is in rehab, an acquaintance has gone missing, her father is too busy to be there for her, there is never enough money… Not knowing when her mother will return home or who is responsible for the disappearance of the missing girl creates a story that held my attention from start to finish.
Once Was Lost dealt with real life problems in a way that felt very realistic. Despite the subject matter this book had a hopeful, satisfying feel to it. I felt connected to the characters and cared about what happened to them.
Content: Mostly clean (2 swear words that I remember) but deals with more mature subject matter (kidnapping, financial & marital problems, alcoholism).
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Source: Overdrive Download
Sam used to help her dad get ready for the Sunday services, and prayed every night with her parents. She once stared at a poster depicting teens of different races and imagined them as her best friends. She really believed God was as real as her parents. And she believed that once she hit high school, her life would be filled with spiritual bonding and friendship.
Instead, Sam now lives a lie. Everyone around her thinks her mom is just ill–or act as if this is what they believe. Her father does not admit to anything different from his pulpit. And so Sam continues to hide her pain and isolation. This takes little effort, actually, as no one in her youth group pays her much attention. No one talks to her, or invites her to their parties. Sam doesn’t know if this is because they don’t like her or because she’s the pastor’s daughter. The other kids certainly seem to think she’s a good girl who obeys all the rules, all the time. And, like her dad, Sam doesn’t admit to anything different. Certainly not to her growing confusion. Or her waning faith. Or her skepticism in miracles–miracles that her family so badly needs.
Not since Madeleine L’Engle have I read a young adult book that so bluntly and honestly confronts faith. As a Christian, I wish novels like this weren’t so few and far between. Some novels will mention a character’s shaken faith in passing, as if it were as inconsequential as a broken shoestring. Oh, what an inconvenience! Now where was I? Others will take advantage of their story to take a dig at God. These authors aren’t interested in discussing faith; they simply want to express their own lack of faith. Zarr knows that faith is not a trivial matter, and that doubts are not so easily shaken off. Her novels have lines like: “I attempt to see past the sky, and into God’s heaven, from where He watches, doing nothing.” Her characters’ faith is a part of them, and their struggles with it can be life changing. As Sam’s world continues to fall apart, and she finds out that her once-perfect father is capable of sin, she finds herself wishing that she could go back in time. Back to a time when her parents had the strength to pull the family back together. Back to a time when God surrounded them and guided them through any crisis.
But Sam can only go forward. To a time when her mother needs more rehab. To a time when her father has few answers in the face of tragedy. To a time when the Bible’s assurances sound flat and unbelievable. Which means that everything is going to a lot worse for Sam before it gets better. I love the realism of Sam’s world. The realism of her questions, doubts, and struggles. And I appreciate that Zarr takes the time to explore the lengthy and difficult journey back to renewed faith.
Once was Lost is a balm for those days when my faith is in question. Thank you, Sara Zarr.
Samara Taylor is a pastor's daughter. But she's also the daughter of a drunk and a teenager struggling to hold onto her faith. Yet she's painfully shy and lives on the outskirts of society despite having one of the most visible positions in her small community. Simply, she feels lost. And when a younger girl from her father's congregation goes missing, she doesn't know how to talk to anyone about her fears and heartache when it's Judy who needs their full attention.
While I'm not quiet by any stretch of the imagination, nor did I grow up in a small town or have an alcoholic parent, I connected with Sam. Not being able to talk about important things and being unsettled by a changing future...those are all issues I've faced. Some people refer to it as a "crisis of faith," but to me it's more of a rite of passage into adulthood. Only a lot of people doesn't come out the other side still holding fast to their belief in God.
There is the internal quality to Zarr's books that I love. I can feel the essence of the narrators without being forced into their heads, like I can put myself inside of them rather than having them jump onto the page, fully formed. It's like being able to see an entirely new side of myself in each new character. And that's something that no other author has ever been able to do for me.