Story of an Author

Sara Zarr, Young Adult Fiction Author

About Sara Zarr


Sara Zarr was born on October 3, 1970, in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father was an alcoholic and left the family when she was a child. She has one sister. She now lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, a high school teacher.


Besides reading and writing, Zarr enjoys music. Classical music, especially, was important in her household during childhood, and she played the clarinet. She likes to cook, watch movies, and blog on her website

Writing Career

Zarr attended San Francisco State and then started to develop her writing career. She wrote her first YA novel in 1995 and wrote three more before Story of a Girl was published. She often cites Robert Cormier and his novel The Chocolate War as being inspirational to her writing. In addition to publishing YA novels, Zarr teaches creative writing at Lesley University and has a podcast series called This Creative Life in which she interviews other authors.

Timeline of Sara Zarr's Work

Story of a Girl

  • Published in 2007
  • National Book Award finalist, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, IRA Honor book, IRA Choices book
  • Suggested Age Range: 14 - 18
  • Summary: Even years after Deanna Lambert made the decision to get into the backseat with her older brother's friend, she is suffering the fallout of her mistake. She has a terrible reputation at school and her relationship with her dad is broken. Deanna is trapped by the person she is labeled to be. Will she ever see herself as someone worthy of love?
  • Story Behind the Story: Sara Zarr lived in Pacifica, the setting of the book. The character of Deanna started off as a secondary character in the third book Zarr wrote (but didn't publish).


  • Published in 2008
  • Cybils Award Finalist, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, IRA Choices book
  • Suggested Age Range: 14 - 18
  • Summary: Popular, beautiful Jenna Harris is relieved to have left behind her past, when she was chubby and frequently bullied. When her childhood friend Cameron Quick reappears, however, old feelings and repressed memories resurface. Is Jenna truly happier now, in her new life? Can Cameron and Jenna rebuild their friendship after everything they've been through together?
  • Story Behind the Story: Jenna and Cameron's relationship was based on the bond forged between the author and her elementary school boyfriend, Mark. Zarr is often inspired by music, and she created a playlist for Sweethearts that you can find here.

Once Was Lost (also published as What We Lost)

  • Published in 2009
  • ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Kirkus Best Book, INSPY Award
  • Suggested Age Range: 14 - 18
  • Summary: Fifteen-year-old Sam Taylor is reeling from her mom's recent placement in a rehab facility. Her dad, a pastor, is known to find the perfect words of comfort and guidance for the members of his congregation; toward Sam, though, he is disconnected and distant. When a local teen is abducted, Sam finds herself questioning the religious beliefs she had once been so certain about. Will Sam's family, like the town's sense of security, fall apart? Can she find solace in her faith once again?
  • Story Behind the Story: Many different aspects of Zarr's life inspired Once Was Lost. Find out more in the video below!

Inspiration Behind Once Was Lost

Once Was Lost - The Story Behind the Story

How to Save a Life

  • Published in 2011
  • ALA 2012 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, Publishers Weekly Best Book, SLJ Best Book, Cooperative Children’s Book Council 2012 Children’s Choice
  • Suggested Age Range: 12 - 18
  • Summary: Jill MacSweeney's father has passed away and her mother's way of coping is by adopting a baby. Mandy Kalinowski is a teen mom who wants to escape her current life, so she takes advantage when Jill's mom reaches out to her. Although the two meet in the most difficult of circumstances, Jill and Mandy benefit from one another's strength. But will either have the courage to move forward from their tragic pasts?
  • Story Behind the Story: In researching the role, Zarr looked up adoption info, prenatal care basics, and even took a train from Omaha to Denver, as Mandy does in the opening scene! Originally, the book was not going to be told in dual perspectives. Zarr decided to include Mandy's voice later on in the writing process.

The Lucy Variations

  • Published in 2013
  • Publishers Weekly Best Summer Book, Publishers Weekly Best Children's Fiction of 2013
  • Suggested Age Range: 12 - 18
  • Summary: Young Lucy Beck-Moreau ended her promising career as a concert pianist when tragedy struck her family. But now her brother's music instructor is making her reconsider her decision. Can Lucy once again find joy in her music? Will her decision tear her family apart?
  • Story Behind the Story: The Lucy Variations is the only YA novel that Zarr tells in third person point of view; all the rest are told from first person. Lucy's conflicts with music, according to Zarr, reflect some of her own dilemmas with writing.

Reflections on How to Save a Life, The Lucy Variations, and what libraries have meant to Sara Zarr!

Sara Zarr at ALA 2011

Find out more about the author!