Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Lacey Anne Byer is known for being a good girl.  Her dad is the pastor of the Evangelical church. Having just turned 16, drivers license in check, and a possible leading role in her churches annual Hell House event, things are looking pretty sweet for Lacey’s Jr year.

Then a mysterious boy comes to school.  Ty is good-looking, drives a red 80’s BMW, and has a glint of trouble in his eye that makes Lacey’s heart beat double time.  After all, everyone knows that Lacey is this good girl…. but Ty is new to town.  With Ty, Lacey can reinvent herself to be anyone she desires.

With Ty…

everything can change.


Hell houses are haunted attractions typically run by American, fundamentalist Christian churches or parachurch groups. These depict sin, the torments of the damned in Hell, and usually conclude with a depiction of heaven. They are most typically operated in the days preceding Halloween.

A hell house, like a conventional haunted-house attraction, is a space set aside for actors attempting to frighten patrons with gruesome exhibits and scenes, presented as a series of short vignettes with a narrated guide. Unlike haunted houses, hell houses focus on occasions and effects of sin or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife. They occur during the month of October to capitalize on the similarities between hell houses and haunted attractions.

The exhibits at a hell house often have a theme focusing on issues of concern to evangelicals in the United States. Hell houses frequently feature exhibits depicting sin and its consequences. Common examples include abortion, suicide,use of alcoholic beverage and other recreational drugs, adultery and pre-marital sex, occultism, homosexuality, and Satanic ritual abuse. Hell houses typically emphasize the belief that anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal savior is condemned to Hell.



I read this book as part of the Faith in Fiction group read.  I loved the look of this book… the cover… the title… honestly, both gave me the sense that we were in for a good Christian YA read that would push the boundaries, those are the books I appreciate the most in the genre of Christian Fiction.

First of all let me say that I had never heard of Hell House until I read this book.  I grew up as a casual church attendee with my family, and later in life, after I was married my husband and I became more committed to a church, and now I work as the Family Life Administrator/ Special Event Coordinator  for our church.

What Melissa Walker captures in this book is the innocence of small town life, and what happens when a boy, Ty, who once lived there a long time ago returns with a different look on life and faith matters than what the church is teaching.  While main character Lacey has grown up surrounded by a life of church and faith… Ty gives her a different look at things…  (I was slightly reminded of Footloose)

The adults of fictional small town “West River”, are RELIGIOUS.  They hold their belief system high… teenage pregnancy falls mainly on the girls shoulders (after all, girls are supposed to be more mature and boys… well, they will be boys 😉 ), being gay is a choice and there is no such thing as being born “gay”, and alcohol is STRICTLY prohibited, even in moderation.

Lacey has grown in to this belief system as well.. but Ty opens her eyes to the fact that not all things are black and white… this is demonstrated well as Melissa Walkers characters all have some sort of “trial” in their own life or in their families (abuse, addiction, alcoholics, teenage pregnancy, and one friend may be gay).  Even Lacey’s own family had her life cookie cutter perfect for her … actually trying to choose her friends because they were different in their eyes. 

I liked that the book brought up tough faith questions, in a YA manner that allows us to question our faith and explore it.  While I do wish the book would have dived in a little more to these questions, I felt the author did a nice job of leaving it open for interpretation… enough that I as a reader am still pondering over the book, days after I finished it.  I wouldn’t mind seeing a second book come out of this story line… continuing on with how this story could be more fully developed as Lacey is more open to exploring her faith and her relationships.


As I mentioned, this review was a book discussed through the Faith In Fiction group.  To see other reviews on this book (and some great thoughts and opinions) check out these posts:

Books and Movies

Book Addiction

My Friend Amy

Book Hooked Blog

Roving Reads

The Ignorant Historian


The 3 R’s Blog

Linus’s Blanket

My Random Thoughts

Tina’s Book Reviews


I received my copy of this book for review from the publisher

Bloomsbury Publishing

8 thoughts on “Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

  1. I love the cover too. I heard about Hell Houses through watching The Untied States of Tara. Tara’s gay son particiaptes in one because he is into theater and has a crush on one of the other boys running the thing.

  2. My biggest beef with this book was that there didn’t seem to be a single adult who would allow Lacey her questions, someone she could turn to with her doubts and worries – they were all so self-righteous and one-dimensional.

  3. I hadn’t heard of Hell Houses but I do know of a church that puts on an annual play about heaven and hell. That isn’t quite so judgmental as a hell house. I grew up attending a conservative church but thankfully we didn’t do anything like that. Excellent review! I have this book checked out from the library and hopefully I’ll get to read it soon.

  4. I think this is the type of book that can bring up a lot of discussion, it sounds both interesting and conflicted. Great review, I hope I get a chance to read this 🙂

Hmmmm... what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s