Despite my monstrous TBR pile, I keep coming across books on various blogs that sound good to me for one reason or another. One book recently caught my attention despite being contemporary YA, a genre I keep insisting I rarely read and yet one that I seem to keep making exceptions for—I had to check it out.
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr is the story of fifteen-year-old Sam Taylor in the midst of the hottest, worst summer of her life. Sam is a PK, a preacher’s kid, in a small town. Everyone knows her family; everyone knows her business– or think they do. What they may or may not know is that Sam’s mom is an alcoholic. Sam has been covering for her since she was eight years old, trying to help her father pretend that everything is perfect in their family. This is the image they’ve always believed they need to project to the congregants.
Sam frets about how her father has always been there for everyone in the church, but has never been there for them. Her mother was the one who took care of her, even as alcoholism took her farther and farther away. As Sam mourns the disintegration of her family, she begins also to question her faith. Depressed and confused, unsure who knows about her mother and who doesn’t, she wants to be left alone. She is alone.
Then another crisis strikes. A young girl in the congregation disappears. The whole town focuses on finding Jody Shaw. Pastor Charlie is very involved in supporting the grieving family and becomes even less available to Sam. She feels more and more abandoned and confused. What makes things worse is that Sam recognizes her own problems are not as bad as those of the Shaw family, but she can't help how bad she feels. And she doesn't know where to turn. She doesn't know how to help. No one in town is above suspicion. As the days tick by, it becomes less likely Jody will be found. Sam is no longer certain who to rely on or where she can place her trust.
This was a surprisingly powerful book. Sam is a very solid character who has carried a lot of responsibility for a long time. She’s no whiny, self-centered teenager. So it’s easy to empathize with her as she struggles with problems too great for someone who is still a child to handle alone. The adults in her life, the ones she should be able to turn to, are not reliable for various reasons. She has good, caring friends – but there is only so much they can do.
Despite the fact that the book revolves around Sam’s questioning of her faith, her church and youth group– it’s not preachy book. The messages are subtle and you can take away from it what you will. It is a hopeful book but one that is tempered with realism.
(It’s also a short, quick read.)