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Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost

4.3 49
by Sara Zarr

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Samara Taylor used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. As a pastor's kid, it's hard not to buy in to the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young


Samara Taylor used to believe in miracles. She used to believe in a lot of things. As a pastor's kid, it's hard not to buy in to the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reason to doubt. Her mother lands in rehab after a DUI and her father seems more interested in his congregation than his family. When a young girl in her small town is kidnapped, the local tragedy overlaps with Sam's personal one, and the already-worn thread of faith holding her together begins to unravel.

In her third novel, acclaimed author Sara Zarr examines the coexistence of affliction and hope, and what happens when everything you thought you believed—-about God, about your family, about yourself—-is transformed.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Faith takes a front seat in National Book Award–finalist Zarr's (Story of a Girl) hard-hitting third novel. When 13-year-old Jody Shaw is kidnapped in broad daylight, her abduction rocks the once secure town of Pineview and her church community (“A thing like this changes the way you think about everything and everyone, and you can never go back”). Her disappearance provides an eerie backdrop to protagonist Samara Taylor's personal drama: her mother's alcoholism, which prompted a four-week stint in rehab, and her father's refusal to focus on anything (his marital problems, the inappropriateness of his relationship with a 26-year-old church member, his parental responsibilities) other than his role as pastor to a flock in need. Sam's questions regarding God's existence (“Do you just decide that you do believe, no matter what, and then force your mind shut when doubts try to come in?”) and her place in the world feel all-encompassing, aptly mirroring the mood of her close-knit community as they trawl for answers in Jody's case. Beyond delivering a gripping story, Zarr has a knack for exposing human weakness in the ordinary. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Michele C. Hughes
Despite being a pastor's daughter, Sam's faith ebbs as she faces her mother's alcoholism and her father's emotional withdrawal. With her mother in rehab and her father more distant than ever, Sam has lost even the little bit of comfort she derived from her imperfect family situation, and, when Jody, a girl from the church youth group, disappears, Sam's faith seems irreparably damaged. Sam appeals to her mother for support, but her lack of response from the rehab facility makes Sam wonder if her mom will ever reconnect with the family. In the midst of this crisis, Sam's father spends more time with a female youth group leader, while Sam deepens her relationship with Jody's attractive older brother, Nick. Their anguish over Jody's disappearance bonds them in a way that a tragedy can, and the interactions between a pastor's daughter and an older boy from the youth group are well-written with a believable awkwardness. This story avoids preachy, sugar-coated perspectives on life, grappling with real questions about suffering, prayer, and faith. Readers sympathize with Sam's authentic emotions during this spiritually trying season in her life. The end of the novel is true to the story: it is not perfectly tidy, but the reader recognizes a tiny seed of faith in Sam and the hope of growth and restoration. Reviewer: Michele C. Hughes
VOYA - Amy Wyckoff
Samara Taylor knows that everyone expects her life to be picture perfect—she is the pastor's daughter, after all. At fifteen years old, however, Sam feels like her world is wilting all around her. During one particularly scorching August, Sam's mother gets a DUI and enters rehab, leaving Sam alone with her father who seems to have the right words to comfort everyone but her. Then the sudden disappearance of a thirteen-year-old member of Sam's church youth group seems unreal. As the search for Jody extends from hours into days, Sam questions not only her belief in God but also her faith in her father, her mother, and the people she thought she could trust in her community. Sam is not expecting a miracle, but she certainly would welcome one. Zarr's fans will not be disappointed by this beautifully crafted novel about a teen coping with a loss of faith. Jody was lost, but no matter the outcome of the search, readers will perceive that Sam's life has changed forever. Readers will be drawn into this realistic story, hoping that Jody will return safely, Sam's mother will recover, and Sam and her father will find a way to reconnect. Heartbreaking at times, this novel is also full of hope because Sam learns to accept the world around her even though she realizes it is never going to be perfect. Reviewer: Amy Wyckoff
School Library Journal
Gr 7–10—For 15-year-old Sam, a pastor's daughter, believing in God was natural until, somehow, a few years back doubt crept in. If God is all good and all powerful, why isn't He fixing anything? Sam's mother's alcoholism resulted in a DUI and landed her in rehab; her father is gone all the time dealing with other people's problems, and he doesn't seem to know how to communicate with his wife and daughter even when he is home. Things ratchet up even further when a local girl is abducted from their sleepy Northern California town, a crisis that drives much of the plot. Then, unexpectedly, Sam experiences a moment when she truly connects with God. Bit by bit, the areas of brokenness begin to move toward healing, although perfection is still a long way off. Sam is a complex and fully formed character whose insight into her own behavior fluctuates in a wholly believable teenage way. Her shy exterior is offset by a sardonic voice, reflecting, for example, on the fact that her alcoholic mother is a better parent than her pastor father. In the background is a beautifully developed metaphor for Sam's life as she tries to find ways to take charge of her backyard, where even drought-resistant plants have succumbed to a massive heat wave. This multilayered exploration of the intersection of the spiritual life and imperfect people features suspense and packs an emotional wallop.—Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL
Kirkus Reviews
The abduction of 13-year-old Jody Shaw has absolutely devastated the small, close-knit community of Pineview, Calif. Though the Shaw tragedy has affected everyone, readers see it through the eyes of 15-year-old Samara Taylor, whose father is the Shaws' pastor and spokesperson. Even before Jody goes missing, Sam is floundering-her mother has spent the last few weeks at a facility being treated for alcoholism, and her father is having trouble coping. When Jody disappears, Sam's faith in God and in both of her parents is further challenged. Her new friendship with Nick Shaw, Jody's older brother and a potential suspect in Jody's disappearance, could either lead to her salvation or destruction. Which will it be? And what becomes of Jody? Bold-faced newscasts periodically interrupt the narrative, providing updates on the Shaw case and maintaining a sustained sense of urgency. This rare combination of in-depth character study and gripping mystery relies on a strong sense of emotional truth to do justice to some tough subject matter without graphic or violent scenes. Riveting. (Mystery. YA)
Praise for Once Was Lost
"Zarr sets a hard task for herself here: interweaving a number of strong story strands and giving them equal weight...add to the story's depth." (starred review)
From the Publisher
Praise for Once Was Lost
"Zarr sets a hard task for herself here: interweaving a number of strong story strands and giving them equal weight...add to the story's depth." (starred review)—Booklist

Praise for Once Was Lost
"Beyond delivering a gripping story, Zarr has a knack for exposing human weakness in the ordinary." (starred review)—Publishers Weekly

Praise for Once Was Lost
"Riveting." (starred review)—Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
HL780L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years


Meet the Author

Sara Zarr was raised in San Francisco, went to high school in Pacifica, California, and now lives with her husband in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is the author of Sweethearts and the National Book Award finalist, Story of a Girl and can be found on the web at www.sarazarr.com.

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Once Was Lost 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 48 reviews.
volleyballgirl143 More than 1 year ago
Sam Taylor has been through a lot in the past month or so. For starters, her mom was sent to rehab for a drinking addiction and one of her friends from church dissapeared off the streets one day. Through all of Sams problems, she tries to stay as strong as possible. So far, the book has been very well written. Sara Zarr has done a terrific job of telling a story. The characters seem so real and you could easily place yourself in any of the settings. The problems that occur in the book are real-life issues and can be easily related to. I would highly recommend this book to any girl, teens and/or young adults.
Susan Duval More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Keeps you on the edge for a while then shows you how God really brings things back together. So glad i bought this book! :)
TheButler More than 1 year ago
Once was Lost holds the exact measurements of everything that makes it accessible and good for many audiences. Sam is someone that many can relate to as they go through an emotional period in there life. I felt like her reactions to her life crumbling around her were realistic. Both the reader and Sam learn that her life isn't crumbling at the end, it is just changing. There is mystery where the kidnapping is concerned and emotion is expressed everywhere in the book. Sam must deal with her own problems with her alcoholic mother and busy father, as well as her communities where the kidnapping is concerned. There is literally a touch of romance in just the right place with just the right person. Sam and her entire journey are good for anyone. The religion aspect plays a big part in the novel, but it will not matter if you have any similarities with the religion part!
Lawral More than 1 year ago
Poor Sam. She needed a hug throughout almost this entire book, and not the one-armed youth leader kind. She sufferes from knowing a lot of people but being close to very few. She's also dealing with the absence of her mother, and her mother's long-time alcohol abuse, all alone. Her dad doesn't want to talk about the situation, or at least he doesn't want to talk about it with Sam, and Sam can't talk to anyone else about it either, not even her best friend Vanessa, without hurting her father's reputation. They just keep telling people her mom is "sick" and not letting anyone in the house. Luckily for Pastor Charlie's image, no one wants to come over anyway since it's August and their air conditioner is broken. When Jody is kidnapped, Sam is clearly upset (she's mad at life, not heartless), but it does give her something besides her mother and crumbling family to focus all of her energy/super-power-strength-worrying-skills on. It's when the youth group is all gathered praying for Jody's safe return that Sam realizes that she doesn't know anymore if anyone's listening. How could a just and loving God let Jody be kidnapped? How could He let Sam flounder through her life feeling so abandoned and alone? Sam struggles through this by herself as well. A daughter who may have lost her faith could be more damaging to Pastor Charlie's reputation than a wife in rehab. But Sam's doubt isn't a rejection of God. She desperately wants to feel the closeness and comfort that her youth group friends feel, especially when she has such a lack of both in her day-to-day life. She just can't muster it, and so she feels isolated and wrong. Though Sam's situation would undoubtably be helped by talking to her church friends or youth leader, the fact that she doesn't feel she can go to them is ultimately realistic. Even if she had sought guidance, this is something so personal that she has to deal with it alone. And she does, with the search for Jody, a budding relationship with Nick, fights with Vanessa, and unreturned voicemails left for her mother all buzzing in the background. Though it is a heavy read, I highly recommend Once Was Lost, especially for regular youth group attendees. Book source: Philly Free Library
GirlwiththeBraids More than 1 year ago
When her mother is checked into rehab, Samara wants her father to say the right words like he does to everyone else in their small town. His charm is undeniable and the Pineview Community Church is lucky to have him as a pastor. But Sam isn't so sure that her dad has it altogether. Then again, what does she really know about him if he's never home? Heat waves suck. And they make everything feel ten times worse. So Sam's thoughts are all the more depressing. A 13-year-old girl from their congregation goes missing and Sam finds herself falling in love with the girl's grieving older brother. But paranoia doesn't leave without a question: Is there really a God? Once Was Lost was predictable. The writing was pretty and flowed well but I was never fully into the story. It was too easy to set the book down. There seemed to be two sides of the main character: one was self-conscience and vulnerable and the other just wanted to scream of frustration. So I could never sympathize with Sam. The book also needed a bigger variety in character personalities. Everyone's dialogue was basically the same things being said over and over. I really liked the ending even though I knew what was coming. Both the cover and the story are minty fresh but they're forgettable.
Lauren817 More than 1 year ago
Sara Zarr's novels are always filled with greatness. Story of A Girl was an amazing and fascinating read while Sweethearts was a heartbreaking story that made me cry. So, when I found out she had a new novel coming out soon, I was supper excited. Luckily, Once Was Lost may seriously be Sara's best attempt yet! Once Was Lost is novel that deals with loosing hope because of different tragedies that are occurring around you while still trying to restore that hope. One thing, I enjoyed about this novel was the way Sara Zarr approached religion. Since, it was well done and wasn't overbearing which I admired about this book. Also, I loved the whole mystery aspect of this novel which is brought out from the kidnapping. It was interesting to see the twists and turns that come from this and the final revelation of who did it. Sadly, at times, Once Was Lost moved in a way that was a bit slow, especially at the beginning. Though, the characters tended to over shadow this bad point, because I really enjoyed reading about them all, especially Sam. She is a character that is easy to relate to and like. Overall, Once Was Lost is a beautiful tale about forgiving and starting to believe again, I look forward to reading more books by Zarr! Grade: A
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt that this book was very slow and boring, but i loved the lessons that the author brings in the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What We Lost is an amazing book!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of those where everybody seems guilty. Unexpected ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Little slow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kinda slow but heartwarming
Bookworm970 More than 1 year ago
This book was amazingly amazing!!! <3 It grabbed my heart when Jody went missing and kept pulling at my emotions with Sam's family problems and Nick's situation where half of the country thinks it's him! I never thought it was him for a second! And at the part where Sam jumps out of the car and Nick just protects her and kisses her sooo gently! That's one of my favorite parts, and I kept re-reading it! How he didn't mean to hurt her, and she truly believes him when he told her he didn't do it. I was crying a little! This is the first book I've read by Sara Zarr, and I just started another and it's pretty good for the beginning of a book! I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants a book that'll definately test your emotions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DKami More than 1 year ago
Sam thinks entering high school will turn her life around, well she is completely wrong. She is the only child of a pastor, which makes everyone automatically think she must be perfect. Her family barely has any money so the church pays most of their bills. When she thinks nothing worse could happen her mother got a DUI, meaning she must attend rehab. Sam and her mom were very close which made her going to rehab even harder. Her dad didn't understand her like her mom did, he seemed to have the answers to everyones questions and problems but hers. One day after church while watching the news she discovers one of her friends, Jody Shaw, from church got kidnapped. At this point she basically loses faith and is unsure on who to turn to.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another hit for Sara Zarr. I love her style of writing. I hope she has something else coming out soon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sierra Clegg More than 1 year ago
Im not christian but i liked that religion was woven in this one
Hallie Rauch More than 1 year ago
It really is awesome. It describes how one event can change your life. Its got tragedy, romance, bonding, and hope all rolled into one. It describes a teens journey to define herself and her faith. The ending might be a little predictable for some, but it definitely makes my top ten.