The more I read by Sara Zarr, the more I think I understand her and the more I begin to appreciate what it is she does. She doesn't take sides, she isn't emotionally manipulative, she releases a whole bunch of complex characters that aren't typically likeable and allows the reader to receive them however they choose. I think this is why I failed to appreciate Story of a Girl, because the issues targeted in it are very important to me and I wanted the author to fight for Deanna, to stand up for her - and that's just not Sara Zarr's style. I get that now.
Once Was Lost, on the other hand, is an absolutely perfect novel to use this technique in. I am an atheist, but I cannot stand anyone who preaches their religious views in novels, whatever they may be and regardless of whether or not they agree with my own beliefs, I don't wish to have any idea rammed down my throat. Sara Zarr is the reason I was able to stomach a book that has a very heavy focus on religion, because she never attempts to put ideas in my head. In my review of Story of a Girl I remember commenting that I wished I knew where the author stood on the problems in the book because it wasn't obvious. And again with this novel, I do not know where Sara Zarr stands when it comes to religion, but this time I feel the novel is better for it.
The novel becomes about the characters and their emotions and suffering and recovering, it is not a book about whether or not God exists. The religious aspect is an important part of showing how Sam loses her grip on her perfect life and what she'd previously believed in. The main questions are: will Sam recover what she has lost, not just her religion but her life, family and happiness? How will she do this? Will she ever become the person she once was?
Though I don't think this was as strong a novel as How to Save a Life, it has cemented my love for Sara Zarr and I can't wait to see what she writes next.