Small 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 Blog, Book Journey, Books and Movies, Crazy for Books, Ignorant Historian, Linus’s Blanket, My Friend Amy, My Random Thoughts, Roving Reads, Semicolon, The 3 R’s Blog, Tina’s Book Reviews, Victorious Cafe, and Word Lily