Title: Small Town Sinners
Author: Melissa Walker
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
May Contain Spoilers
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.
Melissa Walker has crafted the perfect balance of engrossing, thought-provoking topics and relatable, likable characters. Set against the backdrop of extreme religion, Small Town Sinners is foremost a universal story of first love and finding yourself, and it will stay with readers long after the last page.
Wow, this book turned out to be totally different from what I was expecting! I usually try to avoid books that center around religion, because I don’t have strong views on faith. It is often hard for me to relate to characters like Lacey, who are secure and certain in their beliefs. The daughter of a pastor in a small town, Lacey is a model daughter. She isn’t rebellious, she follows the rules, and she takes great pride in her family’s standing in the community. She would never do anything to tarnish her reputation and she toes the Evangelical line. Until the day when a stranger moves to town, and everything that she was taught to believe has her wondering why things are the way they are. Why are some people treated one way, and others in a less favorable manner? Why? Once she starts to ask that question, everything threatens to fall apart, and it leaves her scared and confused.
I enjoyed this book because it is a convincing coming of age story. Lacey has one goal for the next school year, and that’s be cast in a leading role in Hell House, an annual event sponsored by her church to highlight sin and attempt to bring more people into the congregation. When Ty Davis, the new hottie in town, starts to question the portrayal of sin in the play, Lacey begins to have questions as well. When a close friend is caught up in an unfortunate set of circumstances that threaten her future prospects, Lacey wonders why both participants in the sin aren’t punished equally. When her best friend is bullied at school, and then at church, she begins to wonder again. Why isn’t the bully being punished, and why is he allowed to torment her friend, even in the sacred confines of the church. Both of these events put Lacey at odds with her parents, and make her doubt the foundation of her beliefs.
Some tough subjects were tackled in Small Town Sinners, and while not every aspect was convincingly resolved, it made for great drama and believable reasons for Lacey to begin to open her eyes to unfairness and to start developing her own ideas and thoughts about how life and her religion should play a role in her life. As she tries to explain to her disappointed and disapproving father, she doesn’t see the world in black and white anymore. There are now shades of gray. Not every situation has a neat and tidy answer, and not all sins are equal. That’s what I loved about Lacey and it’s what kept me so engaged in the book. She is a very intelligent and compassionate young woman, and all she wants is for everyone to be happy and to find solace and completeness in their faith. Unfortunately, she begins to see that her world view is too simplified, and that her parents’ world isn’t necessarily her world.
There were times when I was uncomfortable with Lacey and her friends. I could not understand their blind devotion to the church, and at times I became frustrated with them. They made excuses instead of admitting that some people weren’t acting in a way consistent with the teachings of the church. Though this made Lacey’s rebellion against her parents even more remarkable, it did grate on my nerves occasionally.
Review copy provided by publisher