Allison's Book Bag

Sara Zarr’s Shorter Works

Posted on: May 27, 2014

“If you’re truly a fan, you need all of her books,” my husband told me as my eyes lingered on the listing of books which Sara Zarr has posted on her website. With this final permission, I submitted my online order and ended up buying three anthologies to fill out my planned June round-up. These three collections each contain an essay or story by Sara Zarr and provide me with further background to an author whose works I have loved since I first encountered her debut novel, Story of a Girl.

Back in October of this year, I finally reviewed Story of a Girl as part of a round-up about troubled teens. In the same week, I also shared tidbits from my online research into Sara Zarr’s life. For this introductory post then, I’ll elaborate upon that biographical post by referring to insights I gleaned from Does This Book Made Me Look Fat?, Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical, and Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd.

doesthisbookmakemelookfat“It is Good” is the essay which Zarr submitted to Does This Book Make Me Look Fat? The anthology contains fourteen selections from authors who at one time in the life felt fat, ugly, skinny, round, flat, bad…. And who would all agree, “Trying on jeans sucked.” In her essay, Zarr tells of how in her earliest years, she viewed her body as part of who she was, not as a separate thing to be judged. Her body was for doing things such as rolling skating, leaping over stacks of pillows, playing foreign spy with the other neighborhood kids, and dressing up like a princess or a literary character. Hear! Hear! This is also how I felt too…. as a child.

Then along came adolescence. Zarr recalls being told by a gray-haired doctor: “Just because you’re hungry doesn’t mean you have to eat your way through the entire grocery store.” The doctor also said she’d never get a boyfriend if she didn’t lose weight. It wasn’t the first time Zarr had heard words like these, nor was it the last, and Zarr took those words to heart. Zarr began to believe that unless she lost weight, she didn’t deserve anything. According to her, Shelley Winters and God came to the rescue. How is something which Zarr explains better than I can, but I do want to reiterate how words which question one’s self-worth can cause huge damage. It took only a few passing comments to send my teen self and beyond into yo-yo diets, designed to lose then gain then lose weight.

Ultimately, Zarr found a group online who like her were trying to change the way they saw and used food and their bodies. Before she knew it, the group had inspired her to participate in a 5K run. Initially, Zarr felt like an imposter, but pretty soon she realized that there were all types of bodies in the crowd. The race gave Zarr evidence that she had the power to be responsible for her body. It also gave Zarr evidence that she wasn’t alone with her issues. That gave her hope, in the same way that Zarr’s novels encourage me. When I read them, I feel as if another person out there gets me, as quirky and unique and flawed as I am.

jesusgirls“Who is My Mother? Who Are My Brothers?” is the essay which Zarr submitted to Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical. The anthology contains twenty-two selections from women who grew up being trained to tell the story or testimony of their lives. Along with way, they also struggled with doubt and faith, living to this day with questions of belief for which there are no pat answers. In her essay, Zarr reflects on the day of her baptism. It happened when she eight and because she believed that she was ready to make a declaration of her faith. Not until years later did Zarr realize that the act also served as a transfer of allegiance. She had become a member of a different family—a child of God.

The rest of Zarr’s ten-page essay reveals a lot about her mother and father. Zarr grew up in San Francisco in the seventies, which she refers to as “the cradle of the Jesus movement”. San Francisco was her family’s last stop on a journey littered with the remains of her father’s career and relationships but all ruined by alcoholism. Somewhere on that road, Zarr reports, her mother became a Christian. During the week, the family would crowd into homes of other Christians to break bread, sing, pray, and fellowship. When Zarr’s dad could no longer be counted upon to provide, Zarr’s mom found work as a church secretary.

Zarr’s essay also reveals a lot about her struggles with church. The latter became both a sanctuary and an exile for Zarr, due partly to her father’s drinking problem. Over and over, Zarr heard sharing and testimonies from families. All of whom reassured her that Jesus lives, Jesus saves, and Jesus loves. Yet a shadow remained, which is the hope that her dad would one day become part of the family of God too. Eventually, her idealized seventies faith started to crumble. Her father left, for good. The Cold War intensified. A Christian singer whom Zarr idolized (as did many other Christian teens of that generation, including me) died in a plane crash. Her disillusionment seemed complete when a pastor whom she grew up with left the church and caused a split. And yet the church remains her family, because Zarr believes that it represents how life could and should be. Although her struggles with faith are only a small part of her novels, it is another reason I’m drawn to Zarr’s works. I feel less alone in my fight to stay Christian even in the face of many doubts and questions.

Interested in reading Zarr’s essay? Check out Image Journal.

geektastic“This is my Audition Monologue” is the story which Zarr submitted to Geektastic. The anthology contains about fifteen selections, most of which are prefaced by a comic strip. Among the other contributors whose names you might recognize are Holly Black, John Green, and David Leviathan. Zarr’s story involves drama and death, which is about all I’m going to say about it. The point of my post is to share biographical information about Zarr, beyond which I already wrote this past fall.

In the bio which accompanied Zarr’s story, I learned that appeared in theatrical productions as early as Zarr’s elementary school days. She continued her career through high school and into adulthood. Zarr actually met her husband while working backstage. While I did briefly pursue acting and playwriting in high school, I have long since moved past those stage days and now prefer to embarrass myself through artistic and literary endeavors. 🙂 So in a way there was little to relate too, except maybe main character Rachel’s desire to be remembered.

Yet that’s okay. Although Zarr is a favorite author because of how much her books make me feel less alone, I also just appreciate her writing craft. “This is my Audition Monologue” is humorous and weird. Her novels are insightful and passionate. Anyone can enjoy them, however one connects with her books, as you’ll find out in my round-up.

Save the dates: May 28-June 6!

PS Please note the dates also include an interview with Sara Zarr!

2 Responses to "Sara Zarr’s Shorter Works"

Thank you, Allison, for the loan of Jesus Girls. I enjoyed Sara Zarr’s contribution to it, “Who Is My Mother? Who Are My Brothers?” so much that I read several more of the book’s essays. It reminded me of my own declaration of faith, disillusionment with aspects of the church, and appreciation for the family nature of the church.

The few selections that I read prior to lending out Jesus Girls also reminded me of my conflicted journey with the church. For that reason, I thought you might enjoy it. It’s also why I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Jesus Girls. 🙂

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