Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (Faith and Fiction Roundtable)

9781599905273Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
Published by Bloomsbury Kids
Review copy provided by the publicist

Lacey Anne Byer is a good girl, a teenager who listens to her parents and believes every word her Evangelical church teaches her. She’s excited to be involved in the upcoming production of Hell House, a play of sorts that her church does every year in order to show people what sin can do to their lives and encourage them to turn away from that life and accept Jesus. But when Ty, the new boy in school, catches Lacey’s attention her world begins to tilt on its axis. As her feelings for him grow stronger, and their conversations about faith grow more intense, she begins to actually question the things she’s been taught.

Small Town Sinners was the fourth selection for the Faith and Fiction Roundtable, and I’m happy we chose this one because although the subject matter is a bit heavy, the book itself is on the lighter side. After some of the other books we’ve read, I needed something like this!

As for my personal feelings on this novel, I did enjoy reading it. I thought the characters, while not all of them likable, were interesting enough and definitely thought-provoking. Although most of the adults seemed to be stereotypical Christian adults, even caricatures, the teens were more realistic and I definitely rooted for Lacey in particular. I liked the fact that Walker doesn’t provide easy answers for Lacey (or for the reader), as I think that easy answers are very, very hard to come by in reality. Some of the members of the roundtable would have preferred for a more solid ending, but I liked the fact that Lacey was left with even more questions in the end. She needed to keep asking those questions in order to understand and really begin to live out her faith, as opposed to the faith that was drilled into her head her entire life.

And that brings me to another point. The thing that I found most interesting about Small Town Sinners was its portrayal of this particular kind of Evangelical church and the way in which the children of that church are taught. These teens were not taught to examine their faith critically, to read the Bible and attempt to understand it, or to seek out God’s love in a positive way. It was all about drilling things into their heads, indoctrinating them into Evangelism, and teaching them that the immediate consequence of disbelief and poor behavior is Hell. It felt like brainwashing to me and it made me so uncomfortable. I personally have never experienced this kind of faith, as I was not raised in a Christian home and, although I have always believed in God, didn’t truly become a Christian until my early twenties. But I can tell you that I knew kids who went to churches like this in high school, and my impression of them was not too favorable. I just did not understand how a person can blindly follow one’s parents and elders in such a way that thinking for yourself is not even an option. I just didn’t get it as a teen, and now as an adult my heart breaks for children and teens raised this way.

But it did make me consider how difficult it must be as a Christian parent, to instill a deep sense of faith in your children while at the same time giving them room to explore and understand their faith and ask the questions necessary to build a solid relationship with God. Carrie mentioned this a bit in our discussion, how this is something she tries to do with her own kids, and it really made me think. It must be easy, as a parent, to want to avoid questions and just teach your children to obey God, but I can’t imagine that it’s the most constructive for the child. Eventually, kids will begin to ask questions and if they wait until they are adults they may not appreciate the answers they find. I am not a parent, but I cannot imagine how challenging this balance must be for parents. So I seriously and admiringly applaud all of you who parent with grace, understanding, compassion, and most of all openness to your child’s own faith journey.

Check out what the other participants thought of Small Town Sinners:

Book Hooked BlogBook JourneyBooks and MoviesCrazy for BooksIgnorant HistorianLinus’s BlanketMy Friend AmyMy Random ThoughtsRoving ReadsSemicolonThe 3 R’s BlogTina’s Book ReviewsVictorious Cafe, and Word Lily





14 thoughts on “Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker (Faith and Fiction Roundtable)”

  1. I like how it sounds like it ends with some questions because then not only is the character thinking but it leaves the reader thinking about those same things.

  2. I have been wanting to read this book for various reasons since I saw it on Lenore’s site. I think the issues that you bring up about teaching children and teens the ways of Christianity are important ones. I don’t believe it’s right to shove religion and hellfire down their throats and only spend time drilling with verses and repercussions of sin. To me, that is an intolerant way to teach God’s word, and it goes on to create intolerant Christians. Though I want my kids to know God and to love him, I can’t see doing it that way, and would never even try it. This was a spectacular review, and I so enjoyed thinking about some of the things you discussed here today, Heather.

    1. Amen! The thing is, if you are raised in a way that tells you exactly what to think and how to think it, then you have no capabilities of thinking for yourself. God gave us a brain for a reason, yes? This is why I get so frustrated with the types of churches that simply preach, preach, preach and don’t encourage questions. People need to figure out faith for themselves if it’s going to be true belief.

  3. I agree with you, I think the kids were raised to believe in their parents faith…but I thought thats where the author made her biggest mistake, I think she could have showcased Lacey growing into her own acceptance of faith or not accepting, but just made her weak and lying all the time with really nothing resolved.

    Great thoughts

    1. I see what you are saying. However, I don’t think it was a mistake for the author to do this. Rather, I think that she was trying to show how destructive this type of faith can be. It was clear from Lacey’s actions how this kind of Christianity caused her to not have her own opinions and not question anything. I do think it would have been good if she had a more positive adult influence in her life, instead of all the influence being from Ty, but I think that the author wrote it the way she did on purpose.

  4. It is one of the hardest things to do as a parent – to trust God to get a hold of each of your children’s hearts with a personal faith, and yet, I have seen first-hand the danger of simply teaching them rote beliefs and doctrines and expecting them to accept them verbatim. God is big enough for our questions!

  5. This one sounds really good and one that I’m sure I would enjoy. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home either and it wasn’t until my early 30’s that I became a Christian. But my oldest son is an Atheist and my younger son just isn’t sure about anything. I have had friends whose church and parents were STRICT about so much in life that I wondered if they understood the Bible at all..great review.

  6. This summary reminds me so incredibly much of how I was raised. Super-strict, critical thinking about the Bible and faith discouraged. I wound up secretly reading through the religion section of the public library attempting to decide on a faith for myself. I wound up agnostic. I’d say that’s evidence enough that this style of raising kids in a faith doesn’t work.

  7. Good review. I wish I had started being more of a committed Christ follower when my children were younger. That didnt happen until they were both in Jr high and then it was really hard to try to instill good Christian values. However, they are both wonderful boys and talk to me often about questions they have and I share with them, without shutting their thoughts or questions down.

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