Daily Archives: October 13, 2009

Once Was Lost

oncewaslostIf I had to make a list of my top ten writers of realistic fiction for young adults, Sara Zarr would certainly be on it. Sara’s books are not only beautifully crafted, they are memorable and have a unique quality that is neither showy nor gimmicky. They’re contemplative, but compelling. Speaking of authenticity, Sara is such an honest, down-to-earth gal, who is thoughtful and super-intelligent to boot. How could you not be a Sara Zarr fan? I’ve loved her past two books (my review of Sweethearts, my review of Story of a Girl) and I’ve had the good fortune to interview Sara about Sweethearts. Tomorrow, she’ll be here to talk about her latest novel, Once Was Lost.

In advance of Sara’s visit, I’m reviewing Once Was Lost today, but first, a few video-y treats. Here’s Sara, talking about her books:

Now, I’m excited to present my first book trailer ever!!! (Be kind people, be kind):

(Not bad for a first go, I’d say. Yay for the miracle of iMovie!)

Once Was Lost is powerful. Like the character’s in Sara’s previous books, Samara feels immediately as true and real as your closest friend. Sara is really good at creating characters who are struggling without turning them into simple pity-cases. You empathize with Sam straight away, as you witness her sadness at her mom’s absence (who is in recovery after a DUI incident), and her frustration as her father continues to give so much of himself to his congregation that there’s little left for his family. You never feel that Sam is just her sadness, however. She has strength and opinions and she thinks about who she is now and who she wants to become.

I was impressed at the way the mystery element of the plot (Jody’s disappearance) wove into Sam’s family story so seamlessly. This thread of the plot echoed and drew out the themes Sara introduces from the outset in Sam’s story: loss, doubt, hope and uncertainty. By using the mystery element as a kind of counterpoint to Sam’s experiences, what might otherwise have been a mostly interior narrative becomes all the more gripping. The kidnapping enhances our awareness of the themes being explored, and provides further opportunity for us to understand Sam more deeply, in her responses to the tragedy, and its effects on her already fragile faith.

As in both of Sara’s earlier books, the ending of Once Was Lost is not simple, or neat and tidy, or too-good-to-be-true. I won’t say much about it, because I wouldn’t want to spoil it. But it’s an imperfect ending. That’s the only imperfect aspect to this novel, I promise you, and even that feels just right.

Pop back again tomorrow to learn more from Sara about Once Was Lost.

Here are a bunch of links about the book, very much worth looking at:

Publishers Weekly starred review
A wonderful playlist for Once Was Lost at Largehearted Boy
An essay by Sara on writing the book
readergirlz Cover Story
YA Lit Bitch interview at Bitch magazine