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.
Discovery: I’ve actually been looking for YA books that discuss religion, so when I heard about Small Town Sinners, I decided to avoid any reviews and read it for myself.
+ Focus on human struggles. I loved that the church itself wasn’t the focus of this novel. I find that it’s become very easy to accuse any religion of being wrong simply on the basis of human action and it was refreshing to see that Melissa Walker was fair in her portrayal of evangelical Christianity. In the hours since I read it, I’ve looked up reviews. A lot of them have lambasted the characters for being too goody-goody or as fandom would say, Mary-Sues. What many of them fail to realize is that these characters aren’t ever going to be total rebels. It’s not in their nature to do a 180-degree turn from being model children into little monsters. The novel’s focus is on the grey areas of morality and how each person reacts accordingly.
+ Writing style. I’m always a little nervous when I start books like this one, because without a deft hand guiding the narrative, it can fall into preachy territory. Thankfully, Melissa Walker is able to pull off a calm and believable voice in Lacey Anne Byer. I’d like to think that even people who feel strongly against evangelicals will find it easy to sympathize and understand Lacey. She isn’t completely brainwashed, as some may assume, but simply a girl who is trying to do the right thing. Following her journey to figure out what that means is satisfying.
– Pacing. This is just nitpicking because I think the book achieves what it set out to do, but there were scenes that I think could have been tightened during edits. I won’t name them specifically because most of them occur during the latter half of the novel. There were also scenes where I expected more introspection or commentary from Lacey and barely got any.
Recommendations: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to younger readers, but if they do find it, parental guidance (not dictatorship) would be appreciated. I can see how this book may offend some people, but I hope that any reader who picks it up will have the courage to keep an open mind.
Next review: Starstruck, Cyn Balog