Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Small Town Sinners

Melissa Walker
Now that Lacey Anne, good church girl extraordinaire, is old enough to get a "real part" in her church's annual Hell House, she tries out for one of the more emotional roles - that of the Abortion Girl. At first what she wants (an awesome Hell House) is simple, but when she finds herself attracted to a boy her dad might not approve of and realizes she doesn't agree with all of her dad's decisions, the black-and-white way Lacey Anne views the world starts to shift. I hadn't heard of a Hell House before hearing about this novel and finding out about them was a bit jarring, to say the least. The basic premise of a Hell House, if I understand it right, is a sort of "haunted house of sins" to try and scare people away from sin and into following Jesus. And this Hell House is especially gruesome. So to be honest, knowing what this book was about and that the main character was a very strict good girl, I was wary going into it. I have a hard time with characters who do a 180 when it comes to personality or beliefs and was afraid that the increidbly-good Lacey Anne would fall into that camp. So I went into this book with some hesitation.

If I'm being honest, I almost didn't review this book; the main character (especially in the beginning) reminds me so much of a girl I was best friends with for years and it was hard for me to get past the many similarities. That said, my original expectations for the characters - particularly that best friend Starla Joy was going to be a rebellious girl who didn't live up to Lacey Anne's good-girl standards - quickly went out the window. Lacey Anne's friends, aside from some mild, superficial differences, are as squeaky-clean as she is. They've all signed abstinence pledges, the girls wear purity rings, and everyone gets along well with their families. Lacey Anne's dad is the Youth Pastor and she's never had a reason to disagree with what he says or believes.

But as the church begins to prepare for its annual Hell House, Lacey Anne finds herself rethinking some of the things she'd always taken for granted. She feels a kinship to the new boy in town, despite the fact that he says the Hell House isn't his thing and despite her father not approving. Ty, she reasons, is a good guy. He goes to church, he lives his life right... but he also makes her question issues that her and her friends had always taken for granted. He makes her think. There was a lot in this book. Not only Lacey Anne's romance and questions of faith and religion, but other sub-themes that shone. Are all sins equally as bad? Is doing drugs as bad as murdering? There was also a sub-theme of gender inequality and double standards that I absolutely loved.

What struck me most about this book is that despite dealing with very heavy, controversial topics (abortion, homosexuality, religion, etc) the story never feels message-driven. It's always very much about Lacey Anne, her changing faith, and the friends she cares so much about. The characters aren't stereotypes and despite their often black-and-white views, there's a very human element to everything that happens. And while I initially expected Ty to be the quintessential "bad boy," he was anything but. He was thoughtful and loyal and believed in both God and questioning. Without giving too much away, I think that Ty is one of the best love interests and characters I've come across in quite a while. His relationship with Lacey Anne is sweet and realistic.

This book brings up a lot of questions that Lacey Anne must deal with and I loved that although her faith was tested, she was determined to persevere and answer the questions for herself. However, I do wish that there had been some indication of where she stood - by the end of the book - on certain matters. Questioning is wonderful, but sooner or later you have to find answers to those questions and while I understood and appreciated why things were left open-ended (for starters these questions take quite a while to sort out), I found that I did want a little more resolution.

Honestly though, that's a small thing and this was a great book that dealt with the topic of religion fairly and faith positively. Whatever your beliefs, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this thought-provoking and well-written book.


  1. I really loved this book but haven't gotten around to writing a review yet (I'm so behind on reviews it's not even funny). I'm glad you liked it, too.

    While I totally understand your desire for more resolution with regard to Lacey's beliefs at the end of the novel, I feel that it was completely intentional on the part of Walker to leave it open. I think the message she wanted to leave readers with is that faith and belief are evolving things, and Lacey wasn't done questioning her world.

    (My biggest issue with the story was the 180 Lacey's dad seemed to have when it came to having an open, honest discussion with his daughter. They were always able to talk about things until she deviated from his viewpoint? As a youth pastor, shouldn't he be trained in this sort of thing? Am I over-thinking this?)

  2. Clementine Bojangles
    I think it was intentional also, but I think it may have been more about not wanting to answer these questions for the reader if that makes sense. And while that made sense to me to a certain degree, I definitely felt like there were some things that Lacey Anne would already know where she stood on.

  3. Can I high five this review? That's possible, right? Can't wait to read it. =)

  4. thatcovergirl
    YAAAY!!! *high five*