Allison's Book Bag

Once was Lost by Sara Zarr

Posted on: May 30, 2014

Once was Lost

Fifteen-year-old Sam is a pastor’s daughter who has more than enough reasons to doubt God. Her mother has landed in rehab after a third DUI. Her father seems more interested in his congregation than in his own daughter. When a young girl from her neighborhood goes missing, Sam begins to wonder where God is in the midst of her “Venn diagram of tragedy”. Sara Zarr tackles issues of faith head-on in her third novel, Once was Lost.

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.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?


2 Responses to "Once was Lost by Sara Zarr"

Thank you, Allison, for the loan of What We Lost (originally Once Was Lost. Like you I appreciated the realism of Sara’s struggles with her faith. And, perhaps because of my father’s having been a pastor, I appreciated probably even more than you Sara’s problems as a pastor’s daughter.

Do you know why the book’s title was changed from Once Was Lost to What We Lost? The original title symbolizes perfectly the lost and found nature of so many aspects of the book–Sam’s struggles with her faith, her mom’s being in rehabilitation, her dad’s involvement with Erin, and of course Jody’s being kidnapped.

I don’t know why the title was changed. However, I know it confused me enough that I almost ended up with a copy of BOTH books. 😦

Others have also positively commented on the original title, including Clear Eyes Full Shelves who notes that the title can also be found from the opening lines of Amazing Grace:

“I once was lost but now am found,
“Was blind, but now I see.”

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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