Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Once Was Lost by Sara ZarrOnce Was Lost
Sara Zarr
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published on October 1, 2009

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About Once Was Lost
Samara Taylor used to believe in miracles. But her mother is in rehab, and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. And when a young girl in her small town is kidnapped, her already-worn thread of faith begins to unravel.

Samara Taylor used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. As a pastor’s kid, it’s hard not to buy in to the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young girl in her small town is kidnapped, the local tragedy overlaps with Sam’s personal one, and the already-worn thread of faith holding her together begins to unravel.

In her third novel, acclaimed author Sara Zarr examines the coexistence of affliction and hope, and what happens when everything you thought you believed—about God, about your family, about yourself—is transformed.

My Review
Once Was Lost has been on my reading list for years. I kind of have no excuse for taking so long to get to it, because it’s not a long book, and it’s exactly the kind of story I love—someone in a difficult place desperately trying to do the right thing anyway. I loved that about Sam. She makes some choices that get her into trouble, but I never doubted that her heart was good and never wavered in wanting to know how her story ended.

Perhaps it’s a little unexpected to find a book in mainstream literature with such strong spiritual themes. I loved the way Zarr handled the descriptions of the small town and the church people. She made them real and gave them real problems without vilifying them. I also loved the way she let us into Sam’s struggles about her faith and her disappointment about what youth group was like. Sam expected this joyous, close-knit community, and instead, she felt distant from the other participants. That war between appearances and genuine connection totally resonated with me thinking back to my own youth group days. It felt so very right on.

All in all, I loved this book. I think it’s a great read for Christian kids who may be facing the same kinds of struggles Sam is but also for kids who don’t share Sam’s upbringing or faith. It’s a great window into what church life can be like with its ups and downs. And ultimately, this story is about self-discovery and personal growth and healing. You don’t need to have faith for those messages to matter. I highly recommend this one.

Once Was Lost on AmazonRecommended for Ages 12 up.

Cultural Elements
Major characters are white. The story takes place in a small California town.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
One instance of mild profanity.

Romance/Sexual Content
Brief kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
As pastor’s daughter, Sam and her family feel a lot of pressure to behave in certain ways. Sam feels like she can’t be honest about doubts she’s having, and when others have significant spiritual experiences, they expect her to be as thrilled about them as they are. Sam wrestles with her faith in a genuine, sensitive way. The church is depicted as a group of well-meaning, even if sometimes hurtful, people. While Sam’s faith isn’t the focal point of the story, her wrestling with doubts does have a meaningful resolution.

Violent Content
While Jody is missing, people speculate about what may have happened to her. The story doesn’t give any details about what goes on during her captivity, but it obviously traumatized her.

Drug Content
Sam’s mom spends much of the book in a rehab program for alcoholics. Sam remembers different events where her mom’s alcoholism interfered with family life or caused other problems. Sam knows her two best friends have gone out with other kids to have a beer at a party, but she’s never invited along, and they don’t tell her about it directly.

Once Was Lost on Goodreads


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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

One Response to Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

  1. Colleen says:

    Love that you reviewed this book. And I LOVED this book. The voice, the premise and theme, everything about it. More books could treat spiritual themes like this. Just kind of organic and not tacked on. Not even a little bit preachy, even though its message is stronger than a lot of novels that are tagged Christian.