Book Review: Once Was Lost

December 27, 2009

Right now I would love to have a personal message from God.  I want to believe the way I used to, when my dad or mom or sometimes both would pray with me at night and I would picture God listening, kind-eyed and bearded.  He was real to me, as real as my own parents.  I don’t know when God stopped being someone I saw as my true friend, and turned into something I’m mostly confused about.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr is about Sam, a preacher’s kid, who has a crisis of faith that is compounded by the kidnapping of one of her peers.

oncewaslostWhat I Liked

– I really enjoy Sara Zarr’s writing.  She is a sparse writer, but the emotion in all of her scenes is palpable.  I feel what Sam feels, always.

– The tension between Sam and her father.  That he doesn’t belong to just her but to the community, but that she wants him to see her as just as important and worthy of his attention as his calling to his congregation.

– Likewise, I love the way Sam’s mother is handled in this text.  I’ll have to agree with the review on Zarr’s page about how the mom isn’t villainized because she’s an alcoholic.  Because, yes, it’s true that not all drunks are mean drunks.  That doesn’t mean it’s a positive experience having an alcoholic parent, but…right.  Not all drunks are mean drunks.  That’s all I can say about that.  I also like that it’s clear Sam’s mom is suffering from depression, specifically, and not just raging alcoholism.

– The relationship between Sam and Nick.

– Okay, so basically all of the relationships in the book are fantastically handled.

– I also just really, really like how Zarr handles Sam’s loss of faith and how she navigates that necessity for something to grasp on to, not just to understand God, but to understand her world, which has been shattered first by her mother going to rehab and next by Jody’s abduction.

– The tension between who and what people expect Sam to be and just who she really is and how she really feels is well-handled.  You know, like everything else in the book.

I used to think my faith was mine. […] I thought that what I believed was what I believed.  Now I think maybe I’m just…here because my parents expect it.

What I Didn’t Like

– This is honestly a dumb complaint, but the book is so sad.  It’s dumb because the book is melancholy from the outset, and the subject matter lends itself to sadness.  However, I have to say, I felt overwhelmed by sadness as the book continued, and I really, really wanted Sam to be happy, and it frustrated me that she was so unhappy.  Which is the point!  So, yes.  Dumb complaint.  But also a hint at how much I connected with Sam.

In conclusion:  Great book; great theme; excellently handled world, characters, and plot.

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  1. Melissa

    You know, just yesterday at the library I was eyeing Sara Zarr and thinking about how I need to check her out because I haven’t read any of her books. Now I’m excited to do so!

  2. Casey

    I’m glad you liked it! This is definitely my favorite Zarr novel thus far. And I loved your point about the way Sam’s mother is handled. I was focused on other things when I read it, but you’re exactly right.


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