Last year I read Sweethearts by Sara Zarr, but I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe the story of childhood sweethearts who meet again but realize that their lives have changed just didn’t hit any of my buttons.
Once Was Lost certainly did intersect with my fascinations. Samara is a PK (preacher’s kid), and she used to think she had a handle on faith. But now Sam’s mother is in rehab dealing with her alcohol problem. And Sam’s dad is ignoring the problem, and pretty much ignoring Sam. And whatever faith in God Sam used to have is getting shaky.
Then, to compound the problems, an abduction takes place in the small town where Sam and her family live, and everyone is so wrapped up in dealing with that tragedy that Sam’s personal grief and confusion over her mother’s illness is overshadowed. And Sam starts to feel like Job, or doubting Thomas, or maybe Lazarus when he was dead and no one was sure Jesus would or could bring him back to life.
This book was so real. The pressures on a pastor’s family to be perfect and have all the answers lest they let the church down or damage God’s reputation were depicted so well. And Sam’s dad, Pastor Charlie, was exactly like other Christian men I know, not a hypocrite or a bad person but just a regular guy struggling to deal with unexpected tragedy and unfathomable pain and questions about where God is all of the suffering. Sam is just a girl, not a perfect pastor’s daughter or an obedient little girl, but a teenager who misses her mom and wants her dad to talk to her and explain what’s happened to their family.
If you’re interested in Christian faith and young adults, or how God really works in the world, or questions about faith, or just a good story, I would recommend Once Was Lost. I read this book last year for the INSPY awards judging, and it’s still with me. It also won the young adult literature INSPY Award last year.