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Sara Zarr’s next book, How to Save a Life is now available for pre-order! So excited. To honor the occasion, I thought I’d review my favorite book of hers, Once Was Lost, recommended to me by her agent, who works where I intern.

Speed Read:

Ok so Sam is the pastor’s daughter with an alcoholic father and not a lot of friends. It’s not that she’s shy or doesn’t want friends or is weird or anything, it’s just hard being the pastor’s daughter in a small town. And not even because people are again religion. It’s that everyone her age is so afraid that the pastor of their church will find out if they try a beer or get to second base or drive before they have their license, that they’re kind of afraid of Sam. Then a young girl goes missing, and Sam finds herself struggling not only with her family, but with her faith, her belief in humanity, and the community that surrounds her.

The Deal:

This book is like if 7th Heaven were actually plausible and good, instead of crazy (remember Mary? Drinking, drugged out, sexaholic Mary? And her name is Mary? Yeah). After reading this book, I’m not quite sure why I always bought that everyone wanted to be friends with the Camden kids when they lived in such a small town. Hello? Why would they be so chill with their priest finding them making out in the living room? (Also, who makes out so much in front of their parents?).

Oh man, I digress. My bad.

MY POINT IS that Sara Zarr’s writing is truly original, with a wonderfully present voice and a way of making the you feel that you’re not only reading the story, but a part of it. Sam’s story takes place over the summer, during a heat wave, and there’s something about the way Sara writes that makes the entire book feel like it’s weighted down under 100 degree weather. I kept feeling the need for a tall glass of ice water while I was reading it. Sam’s voice is wonderfully spare, leaving you with the opportunity to really get to know her through her thoughts and actions, instead of a narrator that just tells you how they feel. Her journey is relevant and left unfinished, which I love, since who figures everything out as a teenager anyway? Who figures everything out, ever?

How Far Should You Go:

I tried to come up with some sort of analogy that doesn’t have to do with heat, but since it’s a heat index of 112 outside….yeah. Not much else happening in my brain right now except, PLEASE GOD LET TOMORROW BE COOLER. That said, I would totally recommend going outside and baking if it means you get to read this book. Don’t kill yourself by heatstroke, I mean, god, take a water bottle, but serious discomfort isn’t too much to ask for this one.

The 13/16 Test:

They’re both good. It tackles some hard hitting “who am I” type of stuff, but nothing out of range for any YAers!

The Low Down:

Once Was Lost
Author: Sara Zarr
Publisher: Little, Brown
Published: October 1, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

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I almost didn’t read this one because of the atrocious cover (why did they feel the need to not only photoshop in an eyebrow piercing, but color her eyes to an alien blue?), but I’m glad I overcame my judgy-ness.

Speed Read:

Meg is a badass rebel teen who just wants out of her small town. Or at least, that’s the front she’s putting on for everyone, including herself. But intense claustrophobia + meaningless sex + blue hair that she doesn’t seem to like very much does not well adjusted make. After she gets caught sneaking onto a forbidden bridge, the same bridge where two teens were killed about a decade before, she’s forced not only to ride around in a cop car for a week to learn her lesson, but to confront her fears, her past, and whether she’s going to make it to the future.

The Deal:

Jennifer Echols. Hmmm. Jennifer. Echols.

I’m trying to figure out how much I like your book.

The writing is solid, with a snarky, hilarious, bad girl main character that is rarely seen in the romancy/teen genre like this. It was a breath of fresh air, and I totally believed that Meg’s life would have led her up to this point. What I didn’t believe was that everything that happened would have happened in that one week.

I wish it had taken place over an entire summer instead of spring break. I would have believed the relationships that fostered, and I would have believed Meg’s growth. Five nights is just not enough for all of that to happen, especially with such a crippling physical manifestation of her fears through claustrophobia and fainting. It’s possible that she would have been able to overcome it over the course of a summer, but even then, I’m skeptical.

I was also on the fence about her love interest, John. He knows he has a temper issue, but I don’t get why he would be so uptight about his friends being around Meg. It was borderline not-ok for me, reading it, and I found it unlikely that Meg would put up with his ridiculousness in that regard as much as she did. Even more frustrating, at several instances she found it cute. While I am fully aware that many girls find the overbearing actions of guys adorable, I just didn’t buy it for Meg. This girl is independent, strong, claustrophobic in every way possible. I’m not sure she would be comfortable with a guy trying to dictate who she can and cannot talk to and where she can and cannot go, even if he’s doing it for her own safety (real safety, not Edward Cullenhand’s shenanigans).

That said, once I put that aside and decided to just go for it, it’s a really lovely book. Even though Meg’s emotional journey takes place rather suddenly, it’s a believable transformation in and of itself. Refreshing also to see a relationship where both parties help each other to move on from their stuck state, rather than a magical boy or girl appearing and fixing all that is wrong with the main character. Each of their lessons were a little heavy handed, but I believe it’s only because they were under a time crunch. They had about six days to learn all of this, people! There isn’t much room for subtlety in a schedule that tight.

How Far Should You Go:

Ok, so say someone comes up to you holding a copy of this book, and it’s the hottest week of the year, and they say you can have the book if you forgo A/C for the amount of time it takes you to read it. I say go for it. Do not, I repeat, do not trade an entire summer of A/C for this book, so if you’re a painfully slow reader, this isn’t a good analogy. But if it’ll take you less than a week (which it should, it’s smallish and square-ish and the font is large-ish), then that’s a fair trade. Definitely don’t do anything crazy like give up slushies until Labor Day or anything.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen is fine, but definitely no for Thirteen. Meg is a troubled teen, and she’s familiar with all things sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Nothing too terrible or graphic, and even though I know logically that it probably (sadly) wouldn’t be over Thirteen’s head, in an ideal world I would hope she wouldn’t understand everything Meg experiences, so I’m not going to be the one to hand it to her just yet.

The Low Down:

Going Too Far
Author: Jennifer Echols
Publisher: Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster)
Published: March 17th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

As hard as I try, I keep gravitating to all these admittedly depressing books. This one, though, is so totally worth the sweat and tears (there was no blood, promise) to get through it.

Speed Read:

Pretty much all you need to know is this: Tessa has cancer and it’s getting worse. She comes up with a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Have sex. Do drugs. Say yes to absolutely everything for a day. But there are several things she didn’t bargain for. She didn’t think her mother would come back into their lives like she does. She didn’t think her best friend would get into the trouble that she does. And she didn’t know she would start talking to the boy next door.

The Deal:

This may be one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. I really wish I’d gotten this one on my kindle, so I didn’t have to keep flipping through the entire book to find the sections I want to read again. Reading this work is like reading song or poetry, but in book form and seemingly never ending. Gorgeous and strange and strong:

“Indoors they’ll be dealing out the cards and passing round the peanuts, but out here, each blade of grass glistens, spiked by frost. Out here, the sky’s packed full of stars, like something from a fairy-tale. Even the moon looks stunned.

I squash windfalls under my boots on my way to the apple tree. I touch the twists in the trunk, trying to feel its bruised slate colour through my fingers. A few leaves hang damply in the branches. A handful of withered apples turn to rust.

Cal says that humans are made from the nuclear ash of dead stars. He say that when I die, I’ll return to dust, glitter, rain. If that’s true, I want to be buried right here under this tree. Its roots will reach into the soft mess of my body and suck me dry. I’ll be reformed as apple blossom. I’ll drift down in the spring like confetti and cling to my family’s shoes. They’ll carry me in their pockets, scatter the subtle silk of me across their pillows to help them sleep. What dreams will they have then?”

See? Lovely. And the story itself is so well done, so tragic and real. I’ve read a lot of deathy books, and this definitely ranks among the best. Bonus: Jenny Downham is coming out with another book in September!

How Far Should You Go:

Everything. Spend years writing an epic poem, donate all of your money to St. Jude’s, sit in a room by yourself for a while and think about the truly true meaning of life, no matter how hard it may be. Confront your fears head on. This book will be waiting for you on the other side.

The 13/16 Test:

Sixteen’s totally fine. I’m betting she’ll read it! Thirteen…next year, for sure. She probably could read it now, but I think she’ll get more out of it if she waits a little longer.

The Low Down:

Before I Die
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: Ember
Published: May 26th, 2009
Classified as: Young Adult

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