In Melissa Walker’s Small Town Sinners, Lacey Ann Bier is sixteen and known for being a nice girl. She has never had what she calls a “movie moment”, all attention focused on her, but is determined to change that by winning the coveted role of “Abortion Girl” in her church’s production of Hell House. Lacey Ann is sure of her beliefs and convinced that Hell House is the way to bring young people closer to God and salvation, but then an old friend comes back to town and major changes impact her social circle. Lacey Ann begins to question all she held as true.
Small Town Sinners was a fascinating read for me since it was a peek into the lifestyle of a teenager who has grown up in an evangelical church. Growing up in the city the only evangelical faith I knew about was Jehovah’s Witness. They would make the rounds, knocking on doors in my building on Saturday morning, and I would see then trying to hand out pamphlets on the street. I never heard of any Hell Houses going down in the city but I am sure that it is possible. There were so many churches that my classmates and I attended, and there were many faiths. We didn’t talk much about religious experiences in school, probably because it would have been rare to have both church and faith in common. Reading this book was definitely a fly on the wall experience for me.
Walker is balanced in her storytelling and I liked that Lacy was such a lovable and relatable character even when she is being judgmental and infuriating. A lot of her very conservative and strict views on just about everything were unpalatable to me, but she believes what she has been raised on by her father, a children’s pastor, and the church. She seeks to follow what she has learned, whether by attending church services, speaking in tongues or helping other people to come to worship her God. The Hell House aspect was surprising, probably because it seemed so extreme, but they all seemed firm in their belief in the effectiveness of scaring sinners into accepting God.
The introduction of Ty, someone who was initially of the same faith but removed from it for several years, introduced a plausible way for her to begin to question her faith. Their burgeoning romance is a tense one, as they try to sort out their different viewpoints. Ty has circumstances in his past that introduce shades of gray and doubt to Lacey Ann’s beliefs, as do burgeoning family problems with her parents and her best friends – the gregarious Starla Joy and the sometimes withdrawn Dean.
Walker has written a quick but thoughtful read that delves into complex issues, and with engaging characters who make realistic progress in solving the problems they face. Recommended.