Synopsis (from Melissa Walker's website):
Does falling in love mean falling out of faith?
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.
I loved SMALL TOWN SINNERS so much because I could really relate to Lacey. No, I didn't grow up in a devoutly religious home, or a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, or even around Hell Houses. But I did grow up trying to please everyone but myself, and I still feel like I don't really know who "I" am. The "who am I" question is a question that everyone deals with at some point in their life, and I just adore the way Lacey begins to find herself. (The literary term for a "coming of age" story is bildungsroman in case you were curious. How's that for random literary knowledge?) SMALL TOWN SINNERS addresses bullying, drunk driving, teen pregnancy, and abuse all while placing it in a realistic context. By "realistic context" I mean that the situations are all happening in a realistic way and not the hard-to-believe way that sometimes happens in novels. These events do not all happen to one person; they do not all have the worst possible consequences. Each situation has a different layer of complexity. For example, the majority of drunk driving themes in today's novels result in death, and death is a very real consequence of drunk driving. However, there are less severe consequences that are just as damaging to a person. Dealing with the fact that you were the cause of someone else's injury, or the way people react toward you after the accident can be very traumatic as well. This is just one example of how Melissa Walker eloquently addresses serious teen issues.
I also really loved the treatment of the Hell House. I have actually attended one of these before, although it was a less severely named Judgement House, and I don't remember the scenes being as intense as they are in the book (although my memory seems to be failing lately). The Hell House in STS helps Lacey to understand that it's time she start questioning her beliefs, not because they are wrong, but because she needs to discover what SHE believes and not what she is told to believe. I liked the way Walker put it (and I'm paraphrasing here), "My parents already have their answers so there's no room for questions. I have questions and need to find the answers for myself." Like I said, that is not an exact quote, but it embodies the beautiful message of the novel.
This book does deal with religious views, and while I wouldn't call it a "religious novel" I would caution that some of the images created and beliefs represented in the Hell House may be extreme for some readers. Scenes include suicide, abortion, and the Devil. These issues and descriptions were no problem for me; however, they may be too graphic for younger readers. I suggestion parents read STS before allowing children under 15 to do so.
Overall a fantastic and refreshing read!