[Book cover credit: librarything.com/work/8305112]
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2010)
- Jody Shaw: Missing, presumed kidnapped. Focus of a community-wide search
- Mom: Also missing, but in a different way. In rehab. Focus of no search but her own. And maybe mine.
- Nick, Jody's big brother: Sweet, worried, disturbingly attractive, and suspect in his sister's kidnapping.
- Dad, AKA Pastor Charlie: Comforting the Shaws. Comforting the community. Forgetting about Mom. Practically ignoring me.
- Erin, youth group leader: Helping head up the search for Jody. Really wants to "be my friend" and spend time with Dad.
- Vanessa, my BFF: Getting a little fed up with my mood and my secrets.
- Me, Sam: Lost--not missing--in my family, in my town, in my faith. No one's looking for me, not even God.
Poor Sam. She needed a hug throughout almost this entire book, and not the one-armed youth leader kind. She sufferes from knowing a lot of people but being close to very few. She's also dealing with the absence of her mother, and her mother's long-time alcohol abuse, all alone. Her dad doesn't want to talk about the situation, or at least he doesn't want to talk about it with Sam, and Sam can't talk to anyone else about it either, not even her best friend Vanessa, without hurting her father's reputation. They just keep telling people her mom is "sick" and not letting anyone in the house. Luckily for Pastor Charlie's image, no one wants to come over anyway since it's August and their air conditioner is broken. When Jody is kidnapped, Sam is clearly upset (she's mad at life, not heartless), but it does give her something besides her mother and crumbling family to focus all of her energy/super-power-strength-worrying-skills on.
It's when the youth group is all gathered praying for Jody's safe return that Sam realizes that she doesn't know anymore if anyone's listening. How could a just and loving God let Jody be kidnapped? How could He let Sam flounder through her life feeling so abandoned and alone? Sam struggles through this by herself as well. A daughter who may have lost her faith could be more damaging to Pastor Charlie's reputation than a wife in rehab. But Sam's doubt isn't a rejection of God. She desperately wants to feel the closeness and comfort that her youth group friends feel, especially when she has such a lack of both in her day-to-day life. She just can't muster it, and so she feels isolated and wrong. Though Sam's situation would undoubtably be helped by talking to her church friends or youth leader, the fact that she doesn't feel she can go to them is ultimately realistic. Even if she had sought guidance, this is something so personal that she has to deal with it alone.
And she does, with the search for Jody, a budding relationship with Nick, fights with Vanessa, and unreturned voicemails left for her mother all buzzing in the background.
Though it is a heavy read, I highly recommend Once Was Lost, especially for regular youth group attendees.
Book source: Philly Free Library