Author: Melissa Walker
Reading level: Ages 14 and up
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (July 19, 2011)
Buy the book: Amazon
Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver's license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church's annual haunted house of sin, Lacey's junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.After reading only a few pages of Small Town Sinners, I began to have an uneasy feeling. I quickly learn that Lacey Anne Byer is the only child of the Children's Pastor of The House of Enlightenment Church and his wife. They live in a small town somewhere in the midwest and the church is a major influence in their town. The fact that I am a Christian myself causes me to be sensitive to how God, Jesus, the Bible and the church are portrayed. As I read, I was concerned about the tone that the author would take and how Christianity and religion would be portrayed. Many times the beliefs and rituals of some churches, especially those that are not of the mainstream denominations, are held up to be ridiculed. This was my concern and question and they weren't answered until I was deep into the story.
The backdrop of this story is the production of a Hell House scheduled to be presented on Halloween weekend. Hell House productions are done in contrast to Haunted Houses filled with ghosts and goblins. The Hell House was put on by the Youth Leaders of the House of Enlightenment as an outreach to the community and outlying areas. It was intended to show the eternal consequences of sinful choices that many people make and cause them to repent and give their lives to God. The scenes included things like abortion, drugs, gay marriage, suicide, domestic violence, cyberporn and drunk driving. Auditions were held for those who wanted to participate and lead roles were highly prized among the older teens. Even though Lacey Ann was only a junior, she greatly desired the lead role as Abortion Girl. Lacey has had a very sheltered and regimented upbringing by strict, loving parents. She has followed all the expected paths and has been happy doing so. She has a love for God and her parents and has a great desire to be the person that they all want her to be. It is only when a boy comes to town (of course!!) that Lacey begins to question the things that she has simply accepted as true for so long. As the preparation of Hell House continues, Lacey starts to look at things differently and acknowledge some doubts. This is where this book is different from so many others. Lacey does not become a crazy, rebellious girl who discards everything she's ever believed in to follow a wild, immoral guy into illegal activity. Instead, Ty Davis asks Lacey questions....questions that are difficult for Lacey to answer with her own voice. Trying to find these answers leads Lacey down a path of discovery of herself and the God she thought she knew so well.
The author, Melissa Walker, has done an excellent job of presenting a slice of life and then allowing the reader to come to their own conclusions. It would be so easy to make fun of these people who put so much time, effort and importance into this Hell House show. To Melissa Walker's credit, she does not do that. We are asked to take these people as they are...honest, sincere, God-fearing people who are doing their best to live godly lives. We are not directed to agree with everything they believe or to see them as foolish, misguided people. Like Lacey, we are asked to consider what we believe and why. My original uneasiness was replaced with admiration for the author's ability to balance more than one viewpoint and give them equal value. Thank you Melissa Walker for a great book! I would highly recommend this book for teens and adults.
- Profanity: Moderate
- Sexual Content: Moderate
- Violence: Mild
- Other Notables: Religious issues