Once Was Lost
Two strong new novels, both starring pastor's daughters, explore the sometimes thorny intersections of religion and family life.
Faith takes a front seat in National Book Award–finalist Zarr's (Story of a Girl ) hard-hitting third novel. When 13-year-old Jody Shaw is kidnapped in broad daylight, her abduction rocks the once secure town of Pineview and her church community (“A thing like this changes the way you think about everything and everyone, and you can never go back”). Her disappearance provides an eerie backdrop to protagonist Samara Taylor's personal drama: her mother's alcoholism, which prompted a four-week stint in rehab, and her father's refusal to focus on anything (his marital problems, the inappropriateness of his relationship with a 26-year-old church member, his parental responsibilities) other than his role as pastor to a flock in need. Sam's questions regarding God's existence (“Do you just decide that you do believe, no matter what, and then force your mind shut when doubts try to come in?”) and her place in the world feel all-encompassing, aptly mirroring the mood of her close-knit community as they trawl for answers in Jody's case. Beyond delivering a gripping story, Zarr has a knack for exposing human weakness in the ordinary. Ages 12–up. (Oct.)