By Melissa Walker
Available now from Bloomsbury
Read my review of VIOLET IN PRIVATE
Read Melissa's guest blog and watch her guest vlog
If there's one thing I learned from the comments section, it's that nothing turns IBWB readers off more than a mention of religious themes. Well, tough. SMALL TOWN SINNERS is chock-full of religion and it's a wonderful book.
Lacey Anne Byer is a sixteen-year-old girl, excited about performing in the Hell House put on by House of Enlightenment, her church. The Hell House is similar to a haunted house, but each room represents a sin. Lacey wants to be Abortion Girl, because that's the message she's compelled to share. But several things begin to change her worldview. Her best friend Starla Joy Minter's older sister gets pregnant. Her other best friend, Dean Perkins, is being bullied and none of the adults will do anything to punish the bully. And Ty Davis comes to town, attractive and willing to talk with Lacey about her doubts.
You don't have to be raised in an evangelical Christian home to sympathize with Lacey. She's at the age where she can see that her parents and other adults are not infallible. They do the best they can based on what they believe is right and wrong. Lacey has to decide on her own values.
Lacey is an extremely likeable heroine. While she's not sure what she believes, she's got a good grasp on listening to and caring for others. Compassion is something that evangelical Christianity, sadly, can lose sight of. As for the romance between her and Ty? It never goes beyond kissing, but it's still hot. Melissa Walker writes with emotional authenticity and Lacey's feelings for Ty are scorching. But Walker doesn't give too much weight to the romance. It's balanced well with Lacey's friendships and questions.
I can't think of another recent teen book that does friendship as well as SMALL TOWN SINNERS. C'mon, high school relationships can be intense, but friends are the most important part. Lacey, Starla Joy, Dean, and Ty are comfortable with each other. (Which leads me to a side point: the outdoors scenes are brilliant. I love every single one. I love what Walker does with sunlight.)
Lacey's parents are also well done. Her father is the children's pastor, so she expects quite a bit of him. But Lacey feels like neither of her parents listen to her or trust her . . . so she starts sneaking out. (Oh, teen logic.) SMALL TOWN SINNERS is fair to the Byers. They can be intolerant and overly strict, but they're good parents who are there for their daughter and other children in the community.
Really, that's the strength of SMALL TOWN SINNERS. It lets people be complex. And yes, evangelical Christians are just as complex as everyone else.