Friday Reads: Sara Zarr

Sometimes the right book falls into your hands at the right time. Sometimes you finally check out an author you've been planning to read for months, only to discover how relevant her work is to where you are right now. Such is the case for me and Sara Zarr. Zarr writes Young Adult contemporary (for my non-YA-writer readers, that means she writes books about teens that are set in the real world, present day). I'd had her on my to-read list for ages, but that list is really, really long and is constantly being added to. Basically, she stayed on my radar, and I knew I'd get to her eventually. (Anyone besides me have authors/books like this?)

Then Zarr happened to tweet about an upcoming title change for one of her novels, and I took notice. Why? Because the original title was Once Was Lost (it's being re-released as What We Lost). I thought, hm, that sounds like she took it from the hymn "Amazing Grace." I clicked the link to her blog. Sure enough, the book deals with a teen's crisis of faith (among many other issues) following the disappearance of a local girl, a girl she knows from her youth group. Why was this interesting to me? Because I'm finishing up revisions on a novel that also deals with a teen's relationship with her faith and God (among many other issues). And because I hope to, like Zarr, reach out to a wide array of readers, not just the Christian market. I knew I had to read this book, and soon.

I loved it and was inspired by it. The protagonist, Sam, is a pastor's daughter who finds her own needs on the sidelines while her family quietly falls apart; it seems like her father is there for everyone in the community but his own family. Sam questions God and the faith she grew up with without Zarr, the author, preaching either way. Zarr says on her website that she wanted to write about a teen who had faith that was sincere, but conflicted, and that's not far off from what I've been working on. Even though my character is dealing with different issues, I was able to take so much from how Zarr approached talking about faith, the conversations her characters had, the role it played in their lives and didn't play at other times, and the balance between the faith-based plotlines and the other elements of the story.

Flash forward a few weeks, and I've picked up the rest of Zarr's books. (She has four; you should also read How to Save a Life, Sweethearts, and Story of a Girl.) Story of a Girl is her first book, and the last one I read. I finished it last night. And while I was reading it for pleasure, because I was really enjoying her characters and her writing and how she depicted the world, I was amazed to open Story of a Girl and find that it also has themes that parallel the project I'm working on right now. Again, I made some notes while reading and then sat down with my own book to try to make the main character's backstory richer.

What's the moral of this post? Well, there are two: 1) If you like reading about teens who are smart and interesting and struggling to overcome tough situations from their past and present, and you like beautiful, evocative, lyrical writing, read Sara Zarr's work. And 2) you never know when the next book you pick up will be the exact thing you need to read exactly when you need to read it, and that's one of my favorite things about books.

Until next week, and happy reading,