Thursday, January 28, 2010

Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost, written by Sara Zarr, offers a deeply emotional story told in first person.

Fifteen-year-old Samara Taylor faces a dry, desert summer alone as the only child of a small town pastor. Her mother was recently admitted to a local rehab facility for alcoholics. Money is tight. It feels like everyone watches her every move. That is, except for her father who seems to preoccupied with the church to pay any attention to Sam or her mother.

When Sam desperately needs stability, she receives even less. Jody, a young girl from youth group, is kidnapped. The case receives national attention with Sam's dad serving as the family's spokesperson. As a result, Sam gets shuffled from one home to the next while confusion, fear and suspicion whirl around town. While nothing is being said or done about Sam's mother, a young, attractive youth leader gives and gets more attention than necessary from Pastor Taylor.

Sam wants to believe in God, but struggles to reconcile the faith she used to claim with the reality of her current life, now seemingly in shards. Her one link to "normal" appears to be Nick, Jody's older brother and a friend from youth group. They seem to understand one another, even through the chaos, and hint at a possible romance. Nick delays leaving for college while authorities continue the search for his sister. Everyone in town seems to be a suspect, including Nick and Sam's dad.

Can Sam trust anyone? Can anyone really trust God? Will Sam's family ever be pieced back together? And what has really happened to Jody?

What I Like: This book is brilliantly written! The author intricately develops her characters with authenticity and tangible conflict. I like that the characters really struggle with their faith. I like that it shows Christians as forgiven, but not perfect. We're not immune to sin and difficulty. I also like that it shows the true complexity of living under the lens of full-time ministry. Most teens don't realize how isolated and excluded pastor's families can feel, especially the kids. This book can help them be more included, more understood and part of the church community.

**Spoiler Alert!** I really like that redemption is found. Not everything is tied up with a pretty ribbon, but Sam does find God and the hope He offers. While not all is perfect, it is positive. Forgives is extended; restoration begins.

What I Dislike: Because it's so well-written, the book is thoroughly depressing at the beginning. If your teen already struggles with emotional disorders, this is not the book for her. Also, Nick curses once (sh***y). I believe the character would use that word, but because the author already did such a fantastic job creating the characters, the inclusion of a curse word was completely unnecessary.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: 12 and up

Publisher Info: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009; ISBN: 0316036048; Hardcover; $16.99

Buy it Now at for $11.55!

Special Info: Adult readers may enjoy this title as well. It is also available in Kindle format and as an audio CD or audio download.

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