I have enjoyed Sara Zarr's writing and stories in the past (such as The Lucy Variations), so when I saw this in a used bookstore I was quick to snag it.
This isn't a very long book - 210 pages, I think - but there is a lot going on within those 210 pages. Almost too much, I think. Sam is the daughter of a pastor and a mother who is an alcoholic. For years they've quietly coped with and hidden from the public the fact that her mother cannot function without a drink, but then her mother has an accident is strongly urged to enter rehab by the courts. With her mother gone and her father there for everyone but her, Sam feels her life is falling apart. Her dad hasn't made it publicly known about her mom, so she doesn't feel she can talk about it. Then, when a local thirteen year old goes missing, she feels even more abandoned by her father (who is helping out the family).
So there's the main plot, with Sam rediscovering herself and questioning her faith. Then there's the subplots - her mother being in rehab, her father coping with his own family disintegrating, and the missing girl, Josie. Sam is in youth group with Nick, Josie's older brother, and when the youth group gets together to bake brownies for Nick, she ends up making a connection with him and they become close friends.
I really feel as if the book needed to be longer, to give more time to develop the characters, the relationships between them, and to fully flesh out all the issues that are brought up in the book (alcoholic mother, absent/clueless father, kidnapping, etc). Everything was wrapped up nice and neat in the end, and there weren't any obvious strings left hanging. Some things were never fully addressed or explained (which I realize is slightly contradictory to my previous sentence). Some details were thrown in and we're left wondering what the repercussions were, if any.
I did like that the characters were not flawless. Even the pastor. That made them seem real and tangible, as if they were people I would have in my life and not just in a story. Zarr does a wonderful job at portraying how they feel and letting their actions speak for them. I just wanted a bit more time with them to fully understand them, know them.
Overall I would say it was a decent read, but it didn't grab me by the shirt tails and leave me an emotional mess. I wasn't as connected as I wanted to be. That being said, I would still recommend it as a quick, easy read.