Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Review: Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

It’s like a Venn diagram of tragedy.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

A perfect flower graces the cover of Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost. Its soft pink petals top a long, graceful stem. One perfect petal drifts from an otherwise unmarred blossom like a tear falling to the ground.

Blemished  perfection symbolized as a lone teardrop perfectly represents Sam’s life.  Samara, Sam to her family and friends, lives in a cushioned and beautiful world of her family’s creation. Her father’s a pastor, her mother’s a lovely woman, active in her church and liked by her peers.

Yet, a darker side coexists within this dubious heaven.

Fifteen-year old Sam’s secure life in small town Pineville shatters following two events. First, her mother’s DUI lands her in rehab for  alcohol addiction. While Sam struggles with the pain of her mother’s illness and absence, she grapples with embarrassment when asked about when her mother will return; worse yet, she’s confused by father’s unwillingness to be forthright with his congregation about the reason for his wife’s absence. Sam’s appalled by what she perceives as an inappropriate relationship between her father and the attractive and lively youth minister, Erin.

Hypocrisy rears its ugly head. Sam’s father has serious and undeserved trust issues when it comes to her friends and her activities. No dating. No internet. No freedom. Sam’s accepted her father’s dictates until she sees his personal hypocrisy. Do what I say like a mantra flows from her father’s lips.

There’s no reason to doubt or mistrust Sam’s choices or her friends. There’s every reason for Sam to doubt and distrust her father’s choices and his friendship with Erin. Her father accepts meals consisting of his favorite dishes made by the youthful and attractive Erin. It feels wrong to Sam. To Sam her father’s stepping over the line that defines marriage. Worse, Erin’s doing her utmost to win Sam over.

Then, in the midst of her family’s crisis, a thirteen-year old member of Sam’s church youth group disappears. One minute she’s with her family—the next, she’s gone. A second crisis in Sam’s life brings her faith in the goodness of an all-seeing, all-knowing God into question.

The book’s title can be found in the opening lines from the hymn Amazing Grace.  Sam’s experience  differs widely, early in the book  from the song’s words of promise.

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see. 

Sam grapples painfully with a newly found soul searching coupled with seeing hypocrisy in her father. She feels lost and blind to trusting in faith.

It’s not difficult to live in a sacred bubble when nothing happens to cause doubt or questions. The bubble begins to wear when Sam’s religious faith and the reality of the harshness of life collide.

Complex issues spin into the texture of Sam’s life. She loves and supports her mother’s commitment to find herself, which she lost in expectations from her husband and his church congregation. Sam loves her father but sees him stumbling into a faith-shattering fall from grace. She feels attracted to the missing girl’s brother, yet does not know how to deal with this new emotion. She fears for the missing teenager and cannot understand how a loving God could allow this to happen. 

How can there be a loving God watching over them when an innocent child might be in the grip of a dangerous kidnapper? Sam’s questions and doubts lead to jaded tears of doubt falling into her once-perfect life. Sam’s soul searching road toward a new found understanding is best summed up in lines from Amazing Grace.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

and Grace will lead me home.

Sara Zarr’s gift of writing doesn’t come wrapped in a simplistic bow.

Instead, Zarr’s writing comes packaged in the complexity of human experience. When all hope seems lost, it somehow rises up again. I did not come to the end of Once Was Lost feeling there is no grace or white dove with its promise of hope.

Once Was Lost brings you along with Sam through her many dangers, toils and snares. It brings you with her on a journey of understanding, forgiveness and love.

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