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Once Was Lost    by Sara Zarr Amazon.com order for
Once Was Lost
by Sara Zarr
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2011 (2009)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Lyn Seippel

Being a preacher's daughter isn't easy. Sam's friends often treat her one way at church and another way at school. She's not supposed to know about the parties they have without her, or wonder why their conversations sometimes stop when she walks up.

Her mom has her own problems as the wife of a preacher. She's aware that the congregation has opinions about her clothes, her actions, and even how she spends her spare time and money. Sam helps all she can, but eventually her mother melts down and ends up in an alcohol rehabilitation center.

Summer is almost over and Sam and her dad Charlie Taylor are on their own. The bills are piling up, the yard is a mess, the house has no air conditioning, and neither of them knows how to cook.

Things are about to get worse. Thirteen-year-old Jody Shaw, a church member, goes missing. Sam's faith is already stressed and now she's faced with the reality that no matter how many prayer meetings are held, Jody may never come home.

While Sam is having a crisis of faith so is her dad. Already overworked, he is now the spokesman for the Shaw family, is rarely home, and spends too much time with the church youth director.

Sara Zarr has a talent for quiet stories, with heroines so realistic that you hate for the book to end. Sam is that type of teenager. She's honest, dependable, and so helpless about what is happening to her family and those around her.

2nd Review by Ricki Marking-Camuto:

With the onslaught of YA novels featuring abnormal teens - either in terms of special abilities or their place on the popularity scale - it is refreshing to read a story about an average girl with average problems. Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost does exactly this.

Sam Taylor is the pastor's kid and this is causing more problems that she wants to deal with at the moment. Her mother already has cracked under the strain of being the pastor's wife and is at court-mandated rehab for her drinking problem. As Sam is getting older, she is finding herself left out of more and more things because her dad is the pastor and her friends are worried she will tattle. Sam, however, does not help the situation, choosing to stay cloistered even after her mom is sent away. Her dad is too busy helping others with their problems to help her with her own.

Everything comes to a head, though, when one of the girls from church (Jody) goes missing. Sam gets involved in the search even though she no longer believes in miracles something definitely out of character for a pastor's kid. She has trouble opening up about her feelings to her old friends, but finds that she can talk to Nick, Jody's older brother. However, her dad wants her to stay away from Nick ... and Sam has someone she wants her dad to stay away from as well.

Sam is the perfect protagonist because she is flawed just like any normal teenager. She is - as she learns about others through the course of her inner journey - just human. This simple humanity is what makes her stay with the reader long after the book is closed.

While Sam was excellently realized, the thing that amazed me most about Zarr's writing was how she tied the title into every storyline. Every main character with whom Sam interacts is lost in some way, just as she is. While Jody is the only one who is physically lost, the theme shines more through the sense of emotional confusion with which many of the characters wrestle. This theme just further illuminates the humanity of Zarr's creations.

For a refreshing and wonderfully-written break from the norm, Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost is the book to get. Her normal characters bring a uniqueness all their own and provide a satisfying read.

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