Her 2007 young-adult debut The Story of a Girl was a National Book Award finalist. The 2008 follow-up, Sweethearts, avoided the sophomore jinx. Now, with her third book, Once Was Lost, local author Sara Zarr has pretty much established that when her name is attached, you can expect a compelling story of teens in turmoil.
Her protagonist this time around is Samara “Sam” Taylor, and it’s easy to understand why in the book’s first line she thinks “the world is wilting.” In the middle of a stultifying Northern California heat wave, her mother is spending court-mandated time in rehab after a DUI arrest; her father, a minister, seems to spend more time caring for his congregation than caring for Sam. Then another tragedy strikes: a young girl disappears, leaving Sam to wonder if there’s anything in her world that she can trust for stability—even God.
Zarr takes a risk by opening with the plot point that might have driven the narrative— her mother’s absence—already past. But Once Was Lost, like all of Zarr’s books, is less about teen-angsty events than about the emerging maturity with which her characters try to confront those events. She grasps those pivotal moments—the fallibility of one’s parents, first love—showing how they give teenagers their first sense of an independent self. And she respects her characters enough not to turn their reactions into the stuff of melodrama. Don’t miss this latest work from one of Utah’s great young writing talents.