Review: Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Small Town Sinners Book Cover Small Town Sinners
Melissa Walker

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 looks promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside of her. Ty Davis doesn't know the sweet, shy Lacey everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for him make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question everything she's ever known about her religion.

Review:

I can’t tell you how happy I am that Small Town Sinners isn’t the typical tale of an innocent, sheltered preacher’s daughter led astray by the new bad boy in town. Walker’s novel is much more subtle than that, and therefore much more powerful.

Lacey isn’t the archetypal preacher’s daughter whose naiveté causes her to be seduced by the first alluring stranger who rolls into town. It is true that her father is a pastor and that she doesn’t swear or drink or stay out past 9 p.m. It’s also true that she has grown up in a small town where the church is basically her entire world. This does not mean, however, that Lacey is some silly, impressionable girl who does whatever she’s told and can be easily swayed by a few romantic words and tender touches.

Lacey is gentle and sweet, but she also possesses a quiet strength and conviction that greatly impressed me. She never backs down from what she thinks is right and doesn’t apologize for what she believes, even when people she cares about don’t see eye-to-eye with her. She is definitely not the sort of girl who can be persuaded or coerced into doing anything she doesn’t agree with, whether the person trying to persuade her is a stranger, a friend, or even a family member.

Another great thing about Lacey is that she’s not an all-or-nothing character. Events throughout Small Town Sinners challenge her beliefs and cause her to question what she’s been taught all her life, but just because she questions doesn’t mean she gives up her faith entirely. Her doubts are directed towards God’s so-called followers, not God himself. I really respected her for continuing to pray and search for truth rather than simply throwing in the towel and giving up on religion altogether.

Just as Lacey is not the typical passive goody-goody, neither is Ty the quintessential bad boy. In fact, I’m not sure I’d call him a bad boy at all. He thinks deeply about the important questions in life and urges others to do the same, making them uncomfortable but also making them grow. He pushes and challenges Lacey but does so in a way that makes her into a better person.

The last thing I’ll say about this book is that it’s well balanced. What I mean by this is that there are no “good guys” or “bad guys” in Small Town Sinners, simply real people who make mistakes but also have qualities that redeem those mistakes.

It would have been easy for Walker to portray the authority figures in the book as unwaveringly stern and misguided and the young people as unfailingly enlightened and noble. Instead, though, she adds complexity to all of the characters by endowing them with good intentions and fallibility in equal measure. All are capable of upsetting you, but they also are capable of making you proud and, ultimately, surprising you.

The whole point of the story is that life isn’t always as simple as black and white.  For that reason it is important to think deeply about life, to take a good, hard look at the world and examine issues from all angles. It’s important ask yourself whether what you’ve been taught is really what you should believe, and to have the courage to trust your heart more than you trust what other people tell you. Lastly, it’s important to realize that having questions doesn’t make you a bad person; in fact, having questions is a sign that you’re thinking deeply about your faith, and chances are you’ll change and grow into a stronger person as a result.

I enjoyed reading Small Town Sinners, and I appreciate that it left me with a feeling of rejuvenation and hope. It’s a refreshing, meaningful novel, one that I definitely recommend.

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