Backlist Boogie: Sara Zarr

Article by marycatherine

We all have those authors whose body of work we have read to near or total completion. This can be especially valuable for kids who are new or reluctant to read--finding a special author who speaks your language can make all the difference. In this monthly feature, one of our booksellers highlights just such a children’s or YA author by burrowing into their backlist titles and contextualizing new releases. Consider this the ‘if the shoe fits, buy it in every color’ principle, except with authors.  


This month, I am celebrating one of my absolute favorite authors of realistic teen fiction, Sara Zarr. Her writing is subtle and quietly graceful, the kind that sweeps you up before you realize it and gently sets you down somewhere you never expected to be, but always wanted to go. 


Let’s take this in chronological order, shall we?


Story of a Girl Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316014540
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - February 1st, 2008

Zarr’s first published novel for young adults was a National Book Award finalist in 2008 and still feels so relevant to contemporary conversations about girlhood, sexuality, bullying, and rape culture. When Deanna was thirteen, her dad caught her in the backseat with a seventeen year old boy, which cemented her reputation as the "school slut." Now, three years later, Deanna is still trying to overcome the rumors and stigma. The book follows her introspective attempts to understand why she and to escape her since-then difficult life at home.

Sweethearts Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316014564
Availability: Backordered
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - January 1st, 2009

This was my first Zarr experience and probably the one that hooked me for life. Jennifer’s childhood best friend Cameron disappeared when they were still young, leaving her with few answers and the unique void left by a best friend who never said goodbye. So when Cameron shows up in her high school class one day, the old friends shyly reconnect, revisit shared memories, and fill in the gaps of their stories. This book somehow brings to life that sensation of remembering something from childhood and realizing it was scarier/darker/sweeter than we realized at the time. It’s about friendship and growing up and families, it is quiet and beautiful, and it’s everything I love about Zarr’s writing.

What We Lost Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316232180
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - April 2nd, 2013

This book wears a lot of hats. It’s a mystery, it’s a portrait of a small town, it’s an exploration of faith questioned, and it’s a story about a struggling family and the difficult dynamics therein. When a local girl goes missing, Sam’s town is thrown into a tailspin of media attention, and fear. In the midst of the mystery surrounding the disappearance, Sam starts to question her faith as both of her parents--mom’s an alcoholic and dad’s a less-than-perfect pastor--complicate her already shaky foundations. I love the care given to Sam’s questions and the way that the action of the story is balanced with the quiet introspection and nuanced relationships. This book is really special and perhaps my favorite on this list!

How to Save a Life Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316036061
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - October 18th, 2011

This is another one in which Zarr manages to present a lot of story elements without letting the characters get lost or bogged down. Mandy is 19, naive, and pregnant. Jill is still mourning her father’s death, and is pretty pissed when her mom agrees to adopt Mandy’s baby. Pissed--and suspicious of Mandy’s story. Told in alternating perspectives, the girls’ opposition balances with a precision I’ve come to expect from this amazing writer. Both girls make sense, both stories are relatable, and both have such distinct voices.

The Lucy Variations Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316205009
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - May 27th, 2014

THE LUCY VARIATIONS is a departure from Zarr’s other work in some ways, but still true to the nuanced, character-driven style that defines her work. Lucy, a super-privileged upper-cruster, gave up her career as a piano prodigy after the sudden death of her grandmother. Months later, she’s still mourning her loss and trying to figure out who she is without the all-encompassing piano to define her. Once again we see balance: Lucy is relateable in her emotional longing, even though she isn’t (for most of us) in her fancy private school or old money. At its heart, this is a book about trying to figure out who you are despite voids of lost people, hobbies, or loves.

Roomies Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316217491
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers - December 24th, 2013

ADORE! I adore this book. I really do. Co-written with (the amazing) Tara Altebrando, ROOMIES is the story of two girls from opposite sides of the country randomly assigned to be each other’s freshman roommates. I’m a sucker for a dual perspective format and love how we see their relationship form over email against the backdrop of their individual last summers before college. I sent a copy of this to my freshman roommate as soon as I finished and she also fell madly in love with it (we always bonded over YA). I can’t wait to see what comes next from the always beautiful, subtle, emotional, relatable world of Sara Zarr!

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