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Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

Samara Taylor is the daughter of popular, charismatic Pastor Charlie. Everyone loves Pastor Charlie, who always knows the right thing to say and always has time for everyone. Everyone except his family. Everyone except Sam, who is alone after her mother's quiet drinking problem resulted in a DUI which landed her in rehab. Sam, who is not even sure if she believes in the God she always took for granted anymore.

And that's when tragedy strikes. A girl goes missing from their small town, and suddenly, nothing is the same. Things that Sam took for granted as safe suddenly seem threatening. And her father--and her faith--feel more distant than ever.

Sara Zarr is a master at the quiet novel that grips your heart. Even in this book, where the plot revolves around a sensational story of a missing girl, the heart of the book is still Sam's very personal and very real struggle with her faith, her family and herself.

The realistic portrait of a small town marred by tragedy--the way it changes everything, makes you mistrust things you once took for granted--it comes alive in this book. More importantly, while the central mystery never loses its hold on the reader, it also never overshadows the more interesting story--Samara's crisis of faith. It takes a very skilled writer to weave a novel that has room for both plotlines and lets the much quieter story be the more significant one.

I devoured this book in a few hours. It's a very quick, compulsive read, and Sam's honest voice pulls you in and doesn't let go. This is one of the more honest teen novels I've read in a long time--I can't recall another novel that dealt so frankly with a genuine crisis of faith. I think this is going to be a book teens come back to.
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January 2016


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