Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr (2009)
The child of a pastor and an alcoholic, Sam’s family struggles to appear picture perfect when in fact they are anything but. Her dad spends much more time and energy on his congregation than on her, and her mom was recently sent to rehab after a DUI-related accident. When a 13-year-old from her church goes missing, Sam loses the already tenuous hold on the beliefs in which she has been raised.
Sam’s friends and people from her church try to reach out to her but the only person she wants to talk to is her mom. Since she can’t, Sam just keeps her thoughts to herself and plans for the time they’ll spend together after rehab. Zarr explores how alcoholism can tear a family apart, but doesn’t do it in a preachy way. Sam has pushed her friends away because of her mom’s problems, has to switch schools because they can no longer afford private school, and missed a big mission trip to Mexico, on which her good friend Daniel had a significant religious experience.
Zarr’s novel is primarily about faith – in a higher power, sure, but also in one’s family and friends. Sam is ok with her missed opportunities because what is most important to her is her family and she has faith that they will make it. She also believes in Nick, the older brother of the missing girl. Sam’s dad warns her against spending time with Nick, a suspect in his sister’s disappearance, but Sam is sure that he is innocent.
This book was every bit as good as her other two. The fact that the missing girl had to have been taken by someone she knew in her small community made for some truly creepy moments. She also deftly handled the difficulties of a teenager struggling with her beliefs, and trying to figure out who she can trust when the one adult she feels she can always turn to is out of reach.
Now that I’ve read and enjoyed all of Sara Zarr’s novels, I can count her as one of my favorite young adult authors. Each of her three books is just as good as the last, and this consistently excellent writing only increases my anticipation of her next novel. How to Save a Life will be released in October and I plan to be first in line!