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 (summary from cover).
The Faith and Fiction Roundtable hosted by My Friend Amy recently read and discussed the YA novel Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker, which focused on perennial good girl Lacey's coming-of-age during her church's annual production of a Hell House. I had a hard time relating to Lacey as a character, and her voice never really rang true for me. I also found the characters a little flat and one-dimensional, especially the adults like Lacey's father, the church's children's pastor. However, I appreciated that Walker left Lacey's spiritual journey open-ended at the conclusion of the book. Faith is such a complicated and personal thing, and I think we'll never have all the answers or our doubts fully resolved this side of heaven. This questioning made Small Town Sinners seem much more authentic.
I personally have never been to a Hell House, but I remember being absolutely terrified after hearing about one my friends went to when we were in middle school (one room involved a young girl screaming for her mother and being told she'd never see her again or something to that effect). I appreciated that this book brought up the subject, because I think hell is a topic that many people have differing opinions about and often find hard to comprehend, myself included. Rob Bell's recent book Love Wins caused a stir when it was released because of his interpretation that Hell is caused by bad choices and that God sentencing someone to Hell for rejecting Him goes against His loving nature. I've found a lot of comfort reading the writings of C.S. Lewis and Dr. Tim Keller on the subject, and of course the Bible. The idea of a Hell House being such a big part of a church's outreach and mission was definitely interesting to think about, whatever flaws I may have found with the writing and characters.
Check out some of the other Roundtable members' thoughts: Heather, Amy, Ronnica, Carrie K, WordLily,
Source: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.