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Estelle: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Small Town Sinners by Melissa C WalkerSmall Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker ( web | twitter )
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 259
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?”

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September 30, 2014 - 11:50 am

Fifteen Must-Read Tough Subject Books - […] Small Town Sinners — discovering one’s own religious beliefs apart from what parents have taught you to believe […]

January 29, 2013 - 3:01 am

Jasmine Rose - I grew up in a small town with the same smalll-minded views. The church I attended liked to believe it was progressive, but homosexuality was viewed as a “hate the sin, not the sinner” thing. It was also kind of a hush hush thing nobody really talked about. Same for all the other major hot button issues. Sadly, growing up in this I shared the same opinions until I started dating my (now) husband. I’m really glad he helped me grow and form my own opinions :]
Also, this book is fantastic!

January 25, 2013 - 6:16 am

Lori - I love this review, Estelle! I went into this book with a lot of trepidation. I’m a very liberal person living in the bible belt, so I feel like I get enough of this stuff on a day to day basis. I found myself really enjoying the book, though. It was nice to see Lacey start her new path.

January 24, 2013 - 2:02 pm

Asheley Tart (@BookwormAsheley) - OH YAY YAY YAY!!!

I absolutely LOVED this book x 1000. I think when I read this last summer I remember tweeting about it and you may have tweeted back that you liked it, Estelle, and I was so happy. I think I may have had a little back-and-forth between a few people about this book because I live in the middle of Hell House country, the Bible-Belt South. I grew up in a place much-like Walker wrote about, with a family almost exactly like Lacey’s. As an adult, I have a faith of my own and I absolutely LOVE the way Walker doesn’t get preachy but still presents this story so accurately. I agree with the above commenter (Kristen) when she mentions that the author wrote with grace and non-judgment. I was a little scared going into it, because I was scared my childhood and what I grew up in would be mocked, but I did not feel that at all. Because of her way of presenting this story and the fact that she *could have* been judgmental about such a topic, I just had such a big respect for her. I read this book and Unbreak My Heart back-to-back and decided that I was absolutely a Melissa C. Walker fan for life.

LOVE this one. So much. I love it even coming from the smack-dab middle of a scene just like it. I grew up in this family, Estelle! They’re still this exact way. These places are pretty huge events around here. I want to have coffee with Melissa Walker and read parts of HER OWN BOOK back to her. That’s how great a job she did with it. I’m totally gushing. I’ll stop now. Yay for your thoughts and yay for this book! 🙂

January 24, 2013 - 12:23 am

Kristen Evey - I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I love how Walker handled everything in this book. I think she wrote the issues with grace and non-judgement, which is something I don’t think I would have been able to do. I come from a very conservative/church background, and most of the things about Lacey and her friends baffled me as well. I’d never heard of hell-houses before this book, but I totally get/relate to a lot of the other stuff in the book. I could also see how for awhile now, like Lacey, I’ve been questioning a lot of things. This was a very thought provoking book for me, and I loved that about it. 🙂 Great review Estelle!

January 23, 2013 - 7:15 pm

Leah - Oh wow.. This sounds like it’d be a tough book for me to read. I have my own beliefs and even though I’d try to keep an open mind, just the Hell House alone would be enough to make me want to walk away.

That said, it does sound like this book would be a great coming-of-age story and I applaud both the character for questioning her beliefs and the author for tackling the subject.

January 23, 2013 - 11:45 am

Cynthia - I tried reading this one and coulnd’t get into it, I think it was all the religion stuff. It sort of pissed me off. Or maybe I was just in a reading slump, that’s happened to me a lot and my views of the books are so different than everyone else’s when I read them during a slump. Now I’m glad I still have this book because your review has made me want to go and give it a second chance. I think I will try reading it again. Thanks for the review Estelle! =D

January 23, 2013 - 10:48 am

Alexa Y. - I love the fact that this books does that ping pong thing where the character has to contend with what she chooses to believe, while considering what she’s been taught growing up and what she’s currently experiencing. That mirrors a struggle that many of us face or have faced or will face, and I think that’s why this book will probably end up resonating with me when I read it.

Great review E! Sounds like this one’s a book I need to check out for sure.

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