Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

As a pastor's kid, it's hard not to buy into the idea of the perfect family, a loving God, and amazing grace. But lately, Sam has a lot of reasons 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 goes missing, 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, your family, and yourself—is transformed.


The Basics
If I  have one goal as a writer it will be to one day write a contemporary novel. As much as I'm a sci-f/fantasy/dystopian girl, I am finding that it's the contemporary novels which keep me glued to the page. Once Was Lost was no exception. Sam had a really enjoyable and very genuine voice, as did most of the characters. It wasn't difficult to immerse myself in the Sam's world and get caught up in the mystery/kidnapping. Zarr dealt with the competing threads of Sam's life seamlessly, showing the anguish Sam felt over the missing person's search in parallel to  her personal family tragedy. I stayed up late reading this one, something I haven't done in a long time.

Symbolism Free Zone
I don't get it. I had to read about it in a review by Jenny and from other Goodreads reviews. That's not saying that the symbolism wasn't well done. I am just very dense when it comes to that sort of thing. Now that I look back on the events, it seems pretty obvious.

Is Frustration Ever Good?
Everybody who sticks around long enough on my blog (is a legend!) will know that I'm a character driven reader. It's so hard to pin down what it is about characters that makes them especially relatable. Sometimes I like them tough. Other times I like them funny or playful. Sam was downright frustrating at times. In many of the situations she faced, I found myself literally screaming at her to open her mouth and let it all out. Instead she kept everything bottled up inside and got a little sadder each day. And yet there's a tiny part of me which respected her ability to let things slide. Goodness knows I would have whipped out a can of whoop ass on her dad a long time ago. I guess what I'm saying is that I liked Sam because she's not at all like I am. She has the ability to understand what other people may be going through and thinks things through before she says anything. As much as it frustrated me that she didn't go postal, I have to agree it wasn't in her character.

The Religion Thing
I wasn't sure if I should talk about the religion thing but then I figured, hey, this is MY blog. Even though there's not overly a lot of blatant religious teaching in this book, I still err on the side of "it's a religious book." There's a lot of soul searching and I personally felt that there was a tendency to forgive and forget and let's move on. From what I can see, Sam and her family don't really deal with their issues so much as wait for them to blow over. Maybe the category of this book as YA precludes it from going into too much depth, though I suspect it's really just a religion thing. That kind of disappointed me because I would have loved to see the issues being dealt with on some level. everyone just seemed to want to keep things 'nice.' Maybe it's just me. On the whole, I still enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more of Zarr's work. 



  1. I have to say that I've never really been "glued to the page" with contemporary novels. Granted, they do seem to be good and make me feel all sorts of things, but I've just never loved em too much. Glad to see you liked this one though.

  2. I'm glad to see you enjoyed this one. :) I'm still considering giving it a try.

  3. I really love contemporary, and Sara Zarr, but I haven't read this one yet. (I did just interview her for my blog, though. She had some interesting things to say about characters in her books)
    Anyway, I'll be interested to see if I pick up on the symbols because I usually don't! I'm glad you liked it.

  4. I am with Sherre when it comes to contemporary novels- unless it is a contemporary fantasy, in that case I am in! lol. I also try to stay away from the religious side of things. If I don't I worry I will add in too much of what I think/feel and let that make my judgements in a book.

    Beth ^_^

  5. I hadn't heard of this one but it sounds as if it could be really poignant. Typically I enjoy books that deal with religion if they're done in a subtle but honest (and not overdone) way. I adore a good YA contemporary, (and would love to write one, too!) so I may have to check this out. Thanks for the great review, Lan!

  6. For some reason, Zarr's books never entirely click with me, and that's how I felt about this one. I thought it was solid and well-done, and didn't quite do it for me. And I totally missed the symbolism.

  7. I didn't know you really like reading contemp fiction. I just like to read about stuff that transports me elsewhere, so contemp is too much like real life for me. But, I'm glad you liked this book. I have a favorite character who is nothing like me and I totally love her because of that. She's the long-suffering, understanding type who never loses her temper, which is so not me at all. Still, I admire anyone, real or fictional, who can keep it together like that.

  8. I'm so glad you liked it. Now go forth and read her other books. ;)

  9. I always love reading your reviews, Lan! This story sounded heavy based on the synopsis -- sounds like it was. It's interesting, what you say about the "forgive and forget" religious theme in the book. That is totally my family, and we're not even that religious. I always chalked it up to being Chinese, but then anyone can blame anything on their culture if they want. :) The result is that things definitely get bottled up, which sounds like what happened with this character.

  10. Um, yeah, this book sounds like my life. Well, kinda. The pastor's kid part. The bottling everything up part. The wanting to keep things "nice" part. Yeah, totally my life. Going to read this book. Thanks for reviewing it Lan. :)

  11. Hm, I've never heard of this one. Don't know how I feel about the religion part, but it sounds like an interesting contemporary read. Glad you liked the book. Might have to check it out.

    Thanks for stopping by
    @ Livin' Life Through Books

  12. 4 out of 5 and a solid review. Thanks for the recommendation!

  13. I agree with your view on contemporary novels - fantasy books etc are well and good, but those just touch something else.

    Great review, Sam sounds like a really well written fleshed out character - though I can't stand it when they bottle up their emotions and you never get the big confrontation. Maybe I just want drama haha xD Personally I mostly stay away from religious books/books with religious overtones unless I'm convinced otherwise, but kudos to you for reviewing that part so well :)

  14. I think what makes me love contemporary is the setting and the characters! Since most of the time we face the same problems like characters in contemporary, I can use their problem solving skill on my own problems LOL! :P I hope you're going to write contemporary book someday, Lan! ;)

    Anyway, awesome review! <3 This book sounds amazing and emotional. Sometimes I literally scream at characters in books too LOL! x) Glad that you enjoyed this book in overall, Lan! :)

  15. I haven't heard of this one before reading your review, but it sounds great. I love that the main character has a strong voice. I am in the mood for a book that has meaningful substance. Thanks for the review!

    s @ Oh! Paper Pages

  16. Elaborate book review! =) Here's mine if you don't mind:

    Thanks and have a nice day!!!


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