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All Good YA Books Go To Heaven

Sara Zarr's Once Was Lost finds a permanent home in Posh's head and heart.

All Good YA Books Go To Heaven

BOOK REPORT for Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

BFF Charm: Yay!
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Straight Up
Bonus Factor: Youth Group
Relationship Status: Pure Love

The Deal:

Samara Taylor is having a pretty craptastic summer. First of all, she's a pastor's kid, and that's NEVER fun, y'all. Even worse, her dad seems to care way more about the church than his own family (hello? Jesus would SO not do that!), a behavior that worsens after Sam's mom goes to rehab for her alcohol addiction. Since Reverend Absentee Father would rather not have the congregation know that his wife was enjoying that communion wine a little too much, Sam can't talk to anyone about it, which only increases the sense of isolation that's been creeping up on her. The cracks in her world and, consequently, her faith, begin to deepen, and then the shizz REALLY hits the fan when local girl (and youth group member) Jody Shaw vanishes without a trace. As the entire community grapples with her disappearance, Sam joins the search for Jody and looks desperately for hope along the way.

BFF Charm: Yay!

I knew Samara and I would be besties the minute she started making fun of the multicultural "COMMUNITY HAPPENS!" poster in the youth group room. Girl, I FEEL YOU. It's hard enough to examine and question any kind of religious faith when you're a teenager, let alone when you're surrounded by cheesy church speak (are you down with G-O-D?!!) and t-shirts like this:

I KNOW, THAT T-SHIRT IS AMAZING. Anyway, given her family circumstances, Sam's basically carrying the weight of the world, and yet she never comes across as whiney or annoying. Far from it! In fact, I was pretty blown away by her maturity and her growing fearlessness about asking questions that she maybe doesn't want the answer to. I really, really wish she had been in my youth group because then I would've invited her over (Sam spends WAY too much time alone) so we could talk about real things, spirituality beyond fake smiles and "inspirational" stories from Mexico mission trips. I would tell her that it's ok to be sad, and after some heart-to-hearting, we could rent Left Behind and speculate on What Happened to Kirk Cameron.

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

After Jody's disappearance, Sam finds herself drawn to Jody's older brother, Nick, the hottie of the youth group (I obvs went to the wrong church in high school, cos we didn't have one of those). Just like in Sweethearts, Sara Zarr ratchets up the chemistry with small, stolen moments and crackling flickers of intense yearning. Nick senses that Sam feels the same emptiness he does, and as they open up to each other, their relationship sharpens with the kind of intimacy that only comes out of shared desperation.

You guys, this ain't no vampire romance! When it comes to the mysteries of the teenage heart, Zarr knows how to create the Real Deal: the sweet awkwardness, the angst of uncertainty, the shimmering highs and the crushing lows. The only reason I didn't give Once Was Lost a higher score is because it's really more about Sam than it is about boys. Which is just another reason why I love this book.

Talky Talk: Straight Up

I firmly believe that Sara Zarr is the most deeply talented writer in the YA world today. In fact, she's so amazing that I kept putting off this review because everything I write seems totally inadequate compared to her awesomeness. Like, honestly, I would do Once Was Lost more justice by simply writing, "This book is incredible. GO READ IT." But then everyone would suspect that I'm just lazy, which I am.

Zarr's style is quietly complex, deceptively simple. Sometimes I read a sentence that's so packed with emotion, I can't help but wonder if it took her a whole day to craft such a perfect string of words. Here's an example (Sam's thinking about the community reaction to Jody's disappearance, which includes ribbons around the trees, etc.):

There's a blue ribbon around the Hathaways' mailbox. When we're sitting out here two weeks from now, in a month, in a year, will the ribbons still be up? I wonder how you're supposed to know the exact moment when there's no more hope.

GAH! Sara Zarr wields authenticity like a sword, i.e. SHE SLAYS ME.

Bonus Factor: Youth Group

I actually had a pretty positive experience with my high school youth group, but even if you didn't (or even if you never participated in one), I think we can all appreciate the weirdness inherent in any gathering of teenagers, not to mention the pressure of trying to conform to a community standard, especially when the burning fires of hell are involved. This book triggered some serious flashbacks for me, from cheesy worship songs ("Our Goooood is an awesome GOD!") to Christian-speak (can I get an "I'll pray for you?" holla!) to that all-consuming need to be "on the right path" and my confusion in high school over what exactly that meant. Don't get me wrong, this book isn't a satire a la Saved. Instead, it rings true to my experience, and that made its impact on me even greater.

Casting Call:

Speaking of Saved...

Jena Malone as Sam

Y'all I can't help it!! There's just no actual teen-aged actress (that I know of) who can pull off the quiet seriousness necessary to play Sam. And since I already went there, I gotta go with...

Martin Donovan as Sam's dad

PASTOR SKIP IS DOWN WITH JC!

And you know I love Patrick Fugit more than Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, but he really doesn't fit the description of "tall and athletic." So I went with one of my boys from Friday Night Lights, who is most certainly athletic and v. cute.

Matt Lauria as Nick

Relationship Status: Pure Love

Although Sweethearts remains my soul mate, Once Was Lost is gonna live in my head and my heart for a long time. While I never faced the kind of family dramz encountered by Sam, her struggle with her faith (not only in God, but also in her family and ultimately in herself) deeply resonated with me. The added layer provided by Jody's disappearance makes Sam's questions and fears all the more gut-wrenching, and by the end, my heart felt more tender and vulnerable than it has in a long, long time.

Posh Deluxe's photo About the Author: Sarah lives in Austin, TX, where she programs films at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah enjoys fancy cocktails, dance parties and anything that sparkles (except vampires).