August 12, 2011

Review: Small Town Sinners

By Melissa Walker
Available now from Bloomsbury
Read my review of VIOLET IN PRIVATE
Read Melissa's guest blog and watch her guest vlog

Book Cover

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.


  1. Really enjoyed this one - did you see my post about the hell houses I participated it at my church? They were much different than the ones in this novel though.

  2. I did see that post! The hell houses you participated in sounded more my speed.

    (Like Ty, some of the "dramatic" flourishes of the SMALL TOWN SINNERS' Hell House really got to me. Mostly the depiction of AIDS.)

    My church just does a plain old haunted house with some indoor trick-or-treating. It's more of a safe place to spend the holiday than a ministry.

  3. Melissa writes brilliant friendships and relationships. She's pretty strong across the board on that one. I was also nervous about the religion aspect of the story but I think it was perfectly handled and very obvious it's about growing up and having questions than preaching about anything.

    I get so excited when I see people I know enjoying this book! I don't know why, I just do. You'd think I wrote it. HA!

  4. I love reading about religion in people's lives (so long as it's not preaching or attempting to convert via literature) because religion/spirituality has such an impact on people's behavior. The inclusion of church/temple/service activities makes characters more 3 dimensional. I think this book sounds great - I'm currently reading an historical fiction about the Shakers called "The Outsider" by Ann Gabhart and it's fascinating.

  5. Cat - So, so true. It's why I own all of her books! (LOVESTRUCK SUMMER will always have a special place in my heart since I named one of the bands.)

    Both - I'm glad ya'll brought up the preaching thing. It's one of the reasons I'm uncomfortable with most Christian fiction. I would think the audience for the genre doesn't need to be preached too, but . . .

    Leigh - I might pick that up! A 2012 romance I'm anticipating (the next in Kathryn Caskie's Sinclair series) has a Quaker heroine. I can't wait to see wait to see how that plays out.

    I find it strange how many books seem to exist in a world separate from religion. Perhaps it's a reaction to how much religion/spirituality is entwined with our everyday lives?

  6. I know what you mean. I think authors are reluctant to include religion unless there's a point to be made, positively or negatively. In my books, I like to give my characters church/pastors/etc. because that's real life and it informs the decisions they make. Not in a "God told me to do this" way with the zeal of a missionary but simply church attendance, CYO participation, etc. that gives them another dimension to their existence. You know, like real people. :)

  7. I LOVED this book! I shy away from most Christian fiction or books with a religious theme because I find them corny and preachy. I love what you said about the characters all being allowed to be complex-I agree. That's what I loved about this book. Everyone is flawed, but not so terribly flawed that they're all shown in a bad light. Instead, they're human and real, which really made the book stand out to me.

  8. This book is on my TBR list. I love your post & now have a better grasp on the book. I love that it shows that the world is gray, not black & white. I also love that she has to figure out what she believes for herself. I am not 100% aligned with my parents on religion or politics. Neither of us are wrong, just different. Great post.


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