Sara Zarr has written a third outstanding novel that hits home with contemporary teens, but Once Was Lost will particularly appeal to Christian young people. Actually, this incredibly realistic story is going to shake up readers of all ages who have experienced the tightrope walk between faith and the real world. Neither saccharine-sweet nor worldly-wise cynical, Once Was Lost examines the life of a preacher's teenage daughter, her family, her church, and a mysteriously missing young member of that church.
Samara Taylor is the fifteen-year-old daughter of a pastor in a small town who is facing a crisis of faith while she and her father live a lie in public. Everyone thinks her family is the perfect picture of all things a pastor's family should be, but the chinks are showing, and growing, right from the beginning of this modern tale. People at church aren't sure why Sam's mother has been missing the past couple of weeks; the official word is that she is not feeling well, but there are these rumors. The truth is that the perfect preacher's wife has been a closet alcoholic who couldn't contain her problem any longer and is now in rehab. This leaves Sam with multiple battles that a girl her age shouldn't have to deal with all on her own. Yet she doesn't have her beloved mother to lean on, and her father--well, while he is quick to support and help everyone in the congregation, he doesn't seem to have a moment to spend with his daughter. He is struggling to keep up appearances, dealing with his his own hurts and demons, and quite oblivious to the pain that Sam is going through. In fact, Sam is at a point where she doubts the existence of this God she has heard about all her life. Add to that a financial situation that is spiraling out of control while Dear Old Dad kind of ignores it, an overly pushy young-lady-youth-group-leader (who is spending way too much time at Sam's house), and Sam's feelings of invisibility in the youth group...well, the sum is in negative numbers. Oh, and then there's the thirteen-year-old who just disappears without a trace right after church one Sunday. Sam finds herself more and more inclined to ask if there is a God at all. And if there is, how can He let so many terrible things happen?
Make no mistake about this: Sara Zarr doesn't tie it all up in a pretty package with a bow on top. She draws from her own experience and faith to write an honest account of the way life is, not the way we really wish it would be. Now I know most of us want that happily-ever-after stuff, but teenagers in particular sense when they are being snowed. They seem to be more open to honesty, even in fiction. This isn't to say that the ending isn't satisfactory--I think it is--but it doesn't follow a neat little formula. Come to think of it, neither does God. To quote C. S. Lewis, "He is not a tame lion."
I am far from being a teenager these days, but I still have left-overs in my very core from that period of my life, left-overs that are deeply affected by the struggles, the loneliness, the feelings of insignificance and confusion that Sam faces. Actually, I found myself crying at a certain point because the story so affected me. I can honestly say that I never really questioned God's existence once I came to know Jesus, yet I am painfully aware of the way many feel He has either abandoned them, doesn't care about them, or just doesn't exist. This novel isn't giving pat universal answers to the masses, but hopefully will make some connections that many need. The suspense and action of the story will certainly keep the pages turning. While the main character is a girl and there is a touch of romance, the emotions, the themes and the mystery will engage guy readers as well as girls. This is not chic lit.
Sara Zarr has written two other popular and critically acclaimed teen novels: Story of a Girl and Sweethearts. Story of a Girl was actually a finalist for the 2007 National Book Awards, a very big deal in literature. You can learn more about the author and her books at her blog here.
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown Books (October, 2009)
Hardcover edition: ISBN-10: 0316036048, ISBN-13: 978-0316036047
Kindle edition: ASIN: B002ONPGIC
Audiobook: ISBN-10: 0307582302
Available at many bookstores everywhere and online at such site as Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher Little, Brown and Company for the purpose of writing a review. However, I make no promises of positive reviews to any author or publisher and tell the sender this before any book is sent. In fact, there are several books I've received that never appeared on my blog sites because I couldn't honestly approve them.