Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker
This book took me completely by surprise. I had read that it was about the Hell Houses that evangelical Christian groups put on yearly to scare young people into joining their churches. I was expecting an indictment of these sorts of events, not the well-balanced view Walker portrays in her new YA novel. High school junior Lacey Anne is the story’s protagonist, with her father being the children’s pastor at her church, the House of Enlightenment. She’s just about to get her drivers’ license and is hoping her super strict parents will loosen the reins once she is able to drive herself and her two best friends around their small hometown. She plans to audition for the Hell House’s most challenging part, that of Abortion Girl, who goes through a mock bloody abortion and dies as part of the production. but, when she see’s a super hot new guy at the DMV, it takes her awhile to realize that he’s really Tyson Davis who moved out of town ten years ago. But Ty seems to have secrets of his own, and is full of thoughtful questions about religion, beliefs and morality. While he and Lacey Anne begin to secretly see each other, she begins to question her certainty about the strict biblical interpretations she’s been taught by her parents and church.
I literally could not stop reading this book until I finished it. I expected it to be pretty one-sided against the controversial Hell Houses, but it showed the humanity of the people who put them on and their true desire to help other people by “saving them.” Although I disagreed with many stands taken by Lacey’s church, they were portrayed fairly, with Walker going to pains not to demonize them. It forced me to look at my own prejudices and make room for other perspectives, even those with which I strongly disagree. This, I think is one of the strengths of this book. It reminds us that just because we all have different beliefs, it doesn’t mean the people on the opposite side of the fence are the enemy.
I would recommend this book to all teens, especially those who like books that encourage them to think about the big issues–religion, morality, war, etc. It’s a short, fast read so it’s perfect for that last minute book project or long car ride with the family.