Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr's latest young adult novel, Once Was Lost is a beautifully-written account of a teen girl's life-changing summer. Samara, called "Sam" by everyone, is the daughter of a small-town minister. The book begins almost a month after her alcoholic mother was sent to rehab after a DUI incident. Not only is Sam struggling with her mother's absence, but the family's finances will probably not allow her to return to her private high school at summer's end. On top of that, her father seems to be dealing with his wife's absence through denial...he doesn't talk to Sam about it at all and chooses to spend most of his time working at the church or helping other families with their problems. When a young girl from the church mysteriously disappears, the community is sent into upheaval, and Sam truly begins to question the faith and beliefs she's held close her entire life.

To say Once Was Lost is about faith or alcoholism or Sam's "coming-of-age" or a young girl's kidnapping is just too simple because Sara Zarr's writing and story weaving is just too complex for that. It's about all of those things and more, but it's not an "issues" book. It's more about a girl's struggle with and acceptance of identity, and all of the other stories and incidents contribute to her journey. If you've read Zarr's other two novels, Sweethearts, and Story of a Girl, you're familiar with her exceptional ability to not only tell a gripping and compelling story but to really get inside the heads of the main characters and make them real. It was the same with Once Was Lost. From the get-go, you really care about Sam. She's a REAL teen who is struggling with some REAL issues. You can feel the sadness, anxiety, and suspicion grow amongst the residents of the town as each day passes with no sign from the missing girl, Jody. You can feel Sam's pain as she tries to deal with her mother's absence and her father's denial, and you can feel her uncertainty and "cautious optimism" when a boy seems to like her. As with her other books, you really don't know how it's going to turn out until the very end, and even then, the future for the main characters is wide open.

Sara Zarr has fast become one of my favorite authors of realistic fiction. Once Was Lost comes with my highest recommendation.

Reading Level: Young Adult | ISBN: 978-0316036047 | Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2009 | Source: Purchased Kindle E-Book Version


  1. What a beautiful review! I enjoyed Story of a Girl, and I am looking forward to reading this book.

  2. So glad you liked it. Isn't she a beautiful writer? She really has a gift.

  3. Great book review! Here's mine if you don't mind:

    Thanks and have a nice day!!!