Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Tags: YA, faith, kidnapping, family

Rating: 4 out of 5


15-year-old Samara’s father is one of the town’s pastors, and her mother is a closet alcoholic who’s recently been admitted into rehab. However, Sam’s father won’t act like something’s wrong: he just continues to be the poster pastor for his church, and Sam is left with an ugly feeling of misunderstanding and loneliness.

Then, a young girl from their church goes missing, and the whole town is in an uproar. Surely the girl’s family has it much worse than Sam’s personal misery, but when Sam tries to be the good daughter in this difficult time, she finds that it’s difficult for her to have faith the way she used to.


Sara Zarr’s third novel is a triumph, a novel whose gentle pacing and complicated protagonist stole my heart. ONCE WAS LOST is the definition of YA realistic fiction: the characters are flawed, the ending’s not exactly perfect, and the course of the novel has its ups and downs—but together, they create a tale that resonates with you.

Sara Zarr is not afraid to leave you with more questions than you have answers. The protagonist, Sam, goes through problems that seem both unique and yet completely relatable at the same time. The story is about the impact of a kidnapping on a church, but ONCE WAS LOST is more about Sam’s adolescent turmoil of not fitting in and feeling misunderstood and alone than it is about religion. Sam questions her faith, but in the end it’s about her faith in herself and her ability to come out alright in the end—a journey that everyone takes.

Subtly complex supporting characters and stellar writing combine to make ONCE WAS LOST a success. Read it for a thought-provoking time—this one’s going to snatch up the awards.

Similar Authors
Sarah Dessen
Melina Marchetta
Jeannine Garsee (Say the Word)
Jenny Downham (Before I Die)

Writing: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Plot: 4/5

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Cover discussion: 4 out of 5 - My favorite part is definitely the colors. Such a muted green, with dashes of bright purple... love it. That and the layout of the flower against the title makes for an evocative cover.

Little, Brown / Oct. 1, 2009 / Hardcover / $16.99

Thanks, Korianne, for letting me borrow your copy! :)


  1. This sounds great, and I'm glad you enjoyed it so much!

  2. Thanks for your review. I can't wait to read this one! It's on its way to me right now, and I think when it arrives I'll have to drop everything & read!

  3. That sounds a really interesting and enjoyable read. Thanks for the review.

  4. Can't wait to read it! Zarr's Sweethearts is one of those books I read in a day but have been thinking about for a year, and I definitely trust her penchant for lyrical writing and excellent, flawed characters. And I trust your reviews, hehe! :) Thanks, I'll definitely be grabbing this one!

  5. Thanks for this one, Steph. I am adding it to my list.

  6. This book sounds great. I def. want to read her books and the cover is pretty!!!

  7. "Once Was Lost" in my current favorite realistic fiction pick. Such a great book -- and your review is just superb.


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