Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: religion, prejudices, parents and their children
Format read: Borrowed from library
Summary: Lacey has been looking forward to auditioning for top billing of her church’s Hell House since as long as she can remember. But when a boy from her childhood comes back to town and things begin changing in her circle of friends, she starts to wonder about faith and what she has always been taught.
For those of you who didn’t know (I didn’t) — Hell Houses really exist. Designed to be a sort of Haunted House, it’s a live theater featuring different scenes (gay marriage, abortion, drunk driving) that are taken to new heights of horrifying in hopes of helping others to see “the light”. Our main character, Lacey, believes in the power of the church, her father (the children’s pastor), and Hell Houses. She believes she will be saving souls. (And all she had ever dreamed about is being the “Abortion Girl”.)
As a liberal person whose stance on religion differs from day to day, there were many things about Lacey and her friends that baffled me. I almost felt like they were living in a 1950s small town bubble while present day went on without them. (1 billion points to Walker for environment creation.) And their voices – especially Lacey’s and her best friend Starla Joy – were downright robotic (although passionate) as if reciting words and phrases directly from the Bible.
I don’t want to seem disrespectful. Religion is a very personal thing and we all have the luxury and freedom to believe what we want. But it was downright frustrating to hear how small minded these folks were. (Another billion points to Walker for voice and characterization.) Ty, a childhood friend of Lacey’s, coming back to town was like a much needed gust/hurricane of fresh air. I admire him for being so patient and artfully tiptoeing around his own truths and beliefs that might cause others to shun him. I’m not sure I would have been able to do the same.
There are 2 specific events that cause Lacey much grief and start her down this road of exploration. I’m so with her. It didn’t make sense that some people who were cruel did not face certain consequences. Or how quickly people turned on each other in times when support was needed. I’m being completely vague, I know, but I don’t want to give anything away. While Lacey struggles with her own beliefs (which aren’t necessarily the ones she has been spoonfed her whole life), her relationship with her family is changing too. As someone who was brought up to never question anything, suddenly her mind can’t stop wandering. Does she have to have everything figured out because of a passage in the Bible or is everything a case by case basis? If you eliminate the religious aspect, this is an issue all kids deal with when it comes to their parents – when is the right time to trust your instincts and what they have taught you so you can come to your own conclusions? (We see both sides here.)
I firmly believe in embarking on your own journey to figure out your faith — whether it be in religion or humanity or both. Walker truly gets Lacey and how her journey will be bumpy and difficult, causing her to ping pong between what she knows and what she feels is right. It’s equally hard for parents to come to terms with their child coming into their own. It’s scary and letting go is sometimes granting understanding, flexibility, and the opportunity to speak your mind without judgement. Or else risk resentment and detachment.
Small Town Sinners is a well-written and engrossing coming of age story. Despite the religious background (that continued to rub me the wrong way), Walker hits on many relevant issues that affect, frankly, anyone who is breathing. Acceptance, forgiveness, understanding, trust, bravery, and taking the first step in your own direction.
“Can anyone see the world any other way but through their own personal lens?”