...just my mind going blank and thoughts reaching up up up, me wishing I could climb through the ceiling and over the stars until I can find God, really see God, and know once and for all that everything I've believed my whole life is true, and real...Not even half. Just the part about someone or something bigger than us who doesn't lose track. I want to believe the stories, that there really is someone who would search the whole mountainside just to find that one lost thing that he loves, and bring it home.
Once Was Lost follows the life of 15 year old, Samara Taylor over a two week period in early August. Sam's world is unraveling. Sam is the daughter of Charlie Taylor, pastor of one of the numerous churches in Pineview. Her beautiful mother is in rehab after being arrested for driving under the influence. Sam and her father are having a difficult time coping with her absence as well as relating to one another. Sam's father is emotionally distant, doesn't really listen to her and isn't able to maintain the home in any way.
Sam is depressed and lonely, missing her mother and is gradually drifting away from her classmates and her best friend, Vanessa Hathaway. Although Sam is part of her church's youth group, she feels alienated from her peers because of how people relate to her due to her being the daughter of the pastor. Sam notices that she is treated differently and that people behave differently around her. Friends go to parties but don't always invite her. She is also struggling to understand what has happened to her family, especially since her father has never explained to his congregation her mother's absence nor has he talked much about her going into rehab. Her father's inability to show leadership in his personal life is what is truly crushing Sam.
Set against this backdrop is the disappearance of 13 year old Jody Shaw one day off the streets of Pineview. Jody's disappearance is the last straw in Sam's struggle to believe in a God who cares.
"...Perfect love drives out fear, is what it says in the Bible. Perfect love. And who, my dad included, really knows anything about perfect love? Anyway, if God loves Jody so much, how could he let this -- whatever it is -- happen to her? And what else is he going to let happen to me?"
Sam narrates her story told over the course of sixteen days in diary form. She relates how the town comes together to try to locate Jody with searches and bake sales. This is set against the backdrop of Sam's own personal life spiraling downward as she struggles to cope with the loss of her mother to rehab and her father's possible involvement with his church's youth minister, Erin. Her father seems oblivious to Sam's personal struggles with her faith, and is unable to relate in any meaningful way to Sam.
"What's the point of being a pastor if you can't tell when your own daughter needs helps?"
But as Sam watches her father struggle to cope with the loss of his wife all the while helping a family deal with the loss of their daughter, she comes to realize that maybe it isn't just because he doesn't care.
"Looking at him, I realize for the first time that it's possible he feels as lost as I do. Maybe what I've been thinking of as him being clueless is actually him not knowing what to do."
Once Was Lost is a book about being lost on many different levels. Sam has lost her mother to alcohol addiction and rehab. She has also lost her faith in God who seems not to care about what happens to people. The Shaw family has lost their daughter Jody. But through all these losses, there is restoration. Sam's mother is gradually healing and recovering in her rehab at New Beginnings. Sam's faith grows throughout her Job-like experience.
Once Was Lost is a great book that explores a young teen's questions about faith and God when times are tough and when it seems like there is no hope left. Through the eyes of Sam, we see one person's struggles when the adults around her have made and continue to make bad choices.
Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
New York: Little, Brown and Company 2009