Fifteen-year-old Sam (Samara) Taylor used to believe. She used to believe in a perfect family, friends who will always be by your side, and most of all, a loving God who watches over everything and protects you. Now, she’s not so sure. Her mother has just entered rehab after getting another DUI, and her father, a pastor, spends more time with the members of their congregation than with his own daughter. And finally, Sam is starting to realize that her “friends” exclude her and probably only hang out with her at all because she is the pastor’s kid and they feel they have no choice. When a local girl is kidnapped, Sam begins to feel her life – and the little bit of faith she has left – slip so far from her grasp.
I really, really liked this one. Sam’s story was completely believable and her voice was so authentic. Sara Zarr created a character in her that I will not forget anytime soon. I so felt for her – she was held up to this insane standard, that she could never meet, a standard which had driven her mother to alcohol, and she was expected to act a certain way even as her entire life was crashing around her. She was such a realistically drawn character that I wanted to pluck her out of the book, give her a hug, and tell her that eventually things would be okay. That in ten years, all this stuff would be a distant memory.
Sam’s questions about her faith were really refreshing and completely accurate for a teen. Every teenager goes through the period of life when they are questioning everything about their life, what they believe in, who they want to be, etc. For Sam, this was magnified by a million because she’s the pastor’s kid, she HAS to be completely God-centered and faithful, yet she was examining her religious beliefs just like every other kid in the world does at one point. And especially when the girl from her town went missing, it made perfect sense that she would question God’s presence in her life, his existence at all, yet she had to remain faithful in her outside image. Nobody wants to see the pastor’s daughter’s unbelief, so she had to hide that part of herself from everyone.
The relationship between Sam and her dad really made me sad. He loved her, of course, but he ignored her for the most part. He did the normal fatherly things – taking physical care of her, providing her with food and shelter, making sure she was safe, etc. – but he never talked to her, never reached out to discuss how she was feeling, never comforted her like he did with all the members of their church. He prioritized his work above his own family and Sam’s mother’s actions were a direct result of his mistaken priorities. So when her mom went to rehab, Sam literally had nobody to talk to, nobody who she felt cared enough about her to give her the time of day. Even her best friend didn’t understand her, and the rest of her “friends” were just putting on a show for the pastor.
I loved the blossoming relationship that Sam was involved in. It took me by surprise, actually, because I didn’t expect Once Was Lost to have romance in it at all, but when this coupling started I just loved reading about it. I don’t want to give too much away because this aspect of the book definitely snuck up on me, but it was one of my favorite things about the book.
There are so many more wonderful things I could say about Once Was Lost, but instead, I’m just going to encourage you to read the book. Sara Zarr has written a beautiful story with realistic, honest characters. Highly recommended for fans of YA fiction.