Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Once Was Lost

I learned about Once Was Lost through a tweet that simply said "Faith and Doubt for Teens: A Review of Sara Zarr's 'Once Was Lost'."  The reviewer had heard the author speaking at a promotion for the book and reports

Zarr said that in her own experience as a teenager, and among teens she had observed, adolescence was a time of questioning everything. And we’re surrounded by stories of how those questions play out in various arenas for adolescents—at school, in family relationships, in dating. But why, when lots of actual teens experience a crisis of faith in adolescence, were there no YA novels about religious doubt?  
So I was forced to read this great YA novel for work.  Darn!

Fifteen-year-old Samara Taylor is a pastor's kid in a small town trying to survive one hot dry summer.  Her  family is broke in more ways than one.  Her mother is in court-ordered rehab after a DUI, and everyone knows, but no one has said anything.  Her father is working 70 hours a week caring for everyone else, but not his own daughter.  And then, just to ratchet the pressure up some more, another member of her youth group is abducted.

There are so many things I liked about this book.  I liked that Zarr raises the stakes with the abduction plot, rather than simply let Sam wallow and stew.  I thought Zarr captured perfectly the mental process of an unhappy teen combined with her monosyllabic and confusing messages to the adults and friends around her.  I appreciated her understanding of church culture and how someone raised in a Biblical milieu will find its messages everywhere.  And I thought the bitterness Sam felt packed a huge punch that leaps right off the page.

I loved, for example, this passage about youth group:

There's a poster in the youth group room that probably came from some youth group-supplies warehouse in Texas or Colorado that I imagine is filled with T-shirts and coffee cups and rubber bracelets with what are supposed to be inspiring messages for The Youth, as everyone who is not The Youth calls us at our church.

The poster--now kind of curling and dusty--shows a bunch of multicultural-looking teens in fashions from five years ago, falling all over each other on comfy couches, big smiles on their fresh faces, surrounded by pillows.  One of them holds a Bible and a notebook in his lap.  On the bottom of the poster are big yellow capital letters:


Don't forget the exclamation point.  Everything for The Youth has exclamation points.

The only criticism I have is that things wrap up a bit too swiftly and tidily in the end.  Even with that, Zarr manages to carry through an image of Lazarus that I found extremely powerful.

Highly recommended.

1 comment:

Lorin said...

Oh, ouch is right. That stung! Guess I better watch my exclamation point use. :)

Sounds like a good book.