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Sara Zarr

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr

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What is Touchstone? Finally, some controversy!

I'll actually be talking a bit about this at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing - my talk is called "YA Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain" (a title partially nabbed from Federick Buechner) and I'll give my take on one answer to "Why are YA books so DEPRESSING?" Short version: adolescence can be very painful, and writing plots that externalize that pain (with dead or addicted parents, etc.) and explore it is one way to be a steward of an aspect of the human experience, which is something writers are in the business of.

IMHO, FWIW, YMMV, etc.

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What is Touchstone? Finally, some controversy!

I'll actually be talking a bit about this at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing - my talk is called "YA Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain" (a title partially nabbed from Federick Buechner) and I'll give my take on one answer to "Why are YA books so DEPRESSING?" Short version: adolescence can be very painful, and writing plots that externalize that pain (with dead or addicted parents, etc.) and explore it is one way to be a steward of an aspect of the human experience, which is something writers are in the business of.

IMHO, FWIW, YMMV, etc.

I'll be there.

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What is Touchstone? Finally, some controversy!

I'll actually be talking a bit about this at the Calvin Festival of Faith & Writing - my talk is called "YA Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain" (a title partially nabbed from Federick Buechner) and I'll give my take on one answer to "Why are YA books so DEPRESSING?" Short version: adolescence can be very painful, and writing plots that externalize that pain (with dead or addicted parents, etc.) and explore it is one way to be a steward of an aspect of the human experience, which is something writers are in the business of.

IMHO, FWIW, YMMV, etc.

I'll be there.

Be sure and introduce yourself!

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Any press is good press, right?

From Julie Just's essay,"The Parent Problem in Young Adult Lit," in the April 1 New York Times:

Judging from The New York Times children’s best-seller list and librarian-approved selections like the annual “Best Books for Young Adults,” the bad parent is now enjoying something of a heyday. It would be hard to come up with an exact figure from the thousands of Y.A. novels published every year, but what’s striking is that some of the most sharply written and critically praised works reliably feature a mopey, inept, distracted or ready-for-rehab parent, suggesting that this has become a particularly resonant figure.

In a typical scene, from “Once Was Lost,” by Sara Zarr, a dad whose wife is at a “recovery center” after a D.U.I. needs help shopping at a supermarket. He shouldn’t be filling the cart with vegetables, his 15-year-old daughter says. “It’s all . . . ingredients,” she explains patiently. “Who’s going to cook this stuff?” He stands by in confusion as she selects precooked chicken breasts.

The protagonist's parents obviously have issues, but the story doesn't strike me as about how spaced the parents are. It's about the girl, of course. I'm not sure how Sara's book really fits into the essay's main theme, but if I had authored a book and just had it mentioned prominently in the New York Times right after the words "some of the most sharply written and critically praised works," I don't know if I'd be upset or jumping for joy.

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Thanks, Christian. Yes, it is always a good thing to be mention in the Times, especially in esteemed and best-selling company. I thought the piece was interesting, though for me the key point missing was that YA novels are stories told from the point of view of an adolescent, currently still in adolescence (not looking back with the wisdom of adulthood), therefore the eyes through which the reader sees the parents is going to tend to skew toward the negative. I remember that, at 15, I thought my mother was completely clueless and I don't know how she got along in the world without me telling her what to do and how to do it. As teens we tend not to see our parents as degree-holders, picture them in their jobs, fully imagine the life they've lived before we came along, appreciate that somehow they have managed to feed, clothe, and shelter us from birth so they must be doing something right, etc. In adolescence we're differentiating from our parents and striking out with OUR way of seeing the world, OUR way of doing things, which often we believe is better (whether it is or not). It makes sense that parents in YA realism come across as very limited or lost - that's so often how teens see them. Also, as Just says in the article, the parents' problems become uninteresting, ultimately, and you are more interested in the teen character, which is the point. Finally, of course, stories are about conflict. In my books so far, families are at a point of crisis and therein lies if not the primary conflict then rich soil for another conflict to grow.

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From my blog post about Sara at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing:

I went to two of Sara Zarr's sessions--a reading on Thursday morning and a more structured presentation on Friday afternoon. The title for her Friday session was "Young Adult Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain," a phrase she borrowed from a Frederick Buechner sermon. Zarr is often some asked questions such as, "Why are your books so depressing? Shouldn't we protect children? Why do you let your characters make bad choices?" These, she argued, are the wrong questions, because pain is an inescapable part of life; a better approach is to ask what to do with the pain. And by dismissing or ignoring pain, adults miss a crucial opportunity to model for young people what a complete human being can be, which is possibly the most important influence adults can have on children. I appreciated the passion and severity with which Sara approaches YA fiction, and also the way she synthesized her writing with her real-world philosophy of what it means, and how important it is, to be an adolescent.

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Thanks, Tyler. I really loved giving that talk to that audience.

It was great to meet you, too. I'm sorry we didn't have more time to chat!

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How's the book promotion going, Sara? Is it ... still going? I thought of you when I read the latest GoodReads newsletter, which highlighted an upcoming video chat with YA author Cecil Castellucci. Maybe you could score one of those video chats?

EDIT: Oh, uh ... looks like I highlighted a separate GoodReads group earlier in this thread. I can't help it! They send me a monthly newsletter, and I'm duty-bound to report on what I see there.

Edited by Christian

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How's the book promotion going, Sara? Is it ... still going? I thought of you when I read the latest GoodReads newsletter, which highlighted an upcoming video chat with YA author Cecil Castellucci. Maybe you could score one of those video chats?

EDIT: Oh, uh ... looks like I highlighted a separate GoodReads group earlier in this thread. I can't help it! They send me a monthly newsletter, and I'm duty-bound to report on what I see there.

Thanks, Christian. Going fine! Promotion a little bit off my radar right now but I'll be thinking about it more intentionally again soon. Thx also for GoodReads video tip. (Personally I avoid GR like the plague because of my Own Issues, but know so many people love and use it...)

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NY Times looks at the dark side of young adult fiction.

Do we have a general YA thread somewhere? I posted this here because Sara gave a rather good presentation on this subject at the 2010 Calvin Festival, which I blogged about here.

A general YA thread is probably a good idea!

I read some of the NYT article - I recommend Paolo Bacigalupi's SHIP BREAKER. Dickensian Sci-Fi, if there is such a thing... (Paolo is one of the contributor's to the article cited above.)

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A general YA thread is probably a good idea!

I've been persuaded over the years here that catch-all threads aren't the best approach. They can work sometimes, but I see the drawbacks with our "JAZZ" thread in music -- a thread I've fed a number of times, but which easily could be replaced by a series of dedicated threads on specific albums and artists. Same goes for YA; why not just launch threads about YA books and authors of interest?

The Lit area doesn't have the same participation level as the Music or Film areas, so a catch-all category might work better here. I'm not sure it's the best route, but feel free to start such a thread if you're so led.

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A general YA thread is probably a good idea!

I'm raising this again to point people to a friend's blog. She's become a YA junkie of sorts, and is looking for further recommendations. I posted a link to Sara's website. If others can be of further help, please post at her blog. Thanks!

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I read this book this week, and I thought it was fantastic. Not what I expected. Beautifully simple prose with dazzling moment of insight and emotional power. Surprisingly daring subject matter that kept me anxious the entire time, like a good thriller, even though this is first person YA dramatic fiction. There's something sublime about the complexity and truthfulness of this book -- a truly horrific backdrop seen through truly innocent eyes. As I told Sara in a private email - I'll read more of her books, but I'm pretty sure I won't like them nearly as much as I liked this one.

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I wouldn't be too sure, Scott. Once Was Lost is my sentimental favorite because it's a world that I recognize more fully, but I think Story of a Girl and How to Save a Life are stronger storytelling, if that makes any sense.

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I wouldn't be too sure, Scott. Once Was Lost is my sentimental favorite because it's a world that I recognize more fully, but I think Story of a Girl and How to Save a Life are stronger storytelling, if that makes any sense.

Yeah, sure it does. Hope you're right -- Joyce has read those already and loves them both.

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I've never heard anyone other than me say that Sweethearts is their favorite Sara Zarr book, so I'll say it again here, although I'm beginning to doubt my own judgment. What sticks with me is the perspective of the male character in Sweethearts. Sara's books all have female main characters, as does this one, but isn't it the case that this book also features a large chunk told from the perspective of the male character, Cameron? That's my memory, and in reaching for why I prefer Sweethearts to Sara's other books, I'd point to that aspect of the storytelling. Except at this point, I think I may be misremembering the story's point of view.

Whoever's point of view is primary, this is the book that most touched on my own experiences as a kid. The experiences in Sweethearts don't match my experiences as a child, but their depiction made me think of things I'd long forgotten about, or stirred emotions I hadn't felt in a long time. These aren't great, nostalgic memories; frankly, some of them were unsettling. But no other book tapped those emotions and memories the way Sweethearts did.

Edited by Christian

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I've never heard anyone other than me say that Sweethearts is their favorite Sara Zarr book, so I'll say it again here. . .

Sweethearts is my favorite Sara Zarr book as well. Just thought I would let you know you are not alone.

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