05 September 2011

Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker

Small Town Sinners
Melissa Walker

Do you remember when exactly you started to realize that your parents didn't know all the answers and weren't always right?  Do you remember when you started to form your own opinions that differed from those of your parents?  I do, and I don't.  I think all parents try to raise their children to the best of their abilities, teaching them what is helpful and what can be harmful (I hate the words "good" and "bad"), and I think that for all parents, the time when their children start making choices of their own - whether helpful or harmful - is extremely difficult (I'm kinda guessing, as I have no children of my own).

Small Town Sinners is an amazingly crafted novel that examines this phenomenon from the point of view of the child.  Lacey Ann has grown up in West River - a small, God fearing community.  Lacey Ann's dad is the youth pastor at the church, and every year the youth put on a production called "Hell House" - a house of sin production aimed at bringing souls to Christ.  The book begins when Lacey is finally old enough to audition for a main role, and Lacey wants to be Abortion Girl.  Lacey knows that her performace will show people the truth as she knows it:  that abortion is wrong and that Christ is the answer.

Enter the mysterious Ty.  Lacey has never met anyone like Ty before - his smile melts her resolve, but more importantly, she can talk to him like she can't talk to her parents or her best friends.  She can talk to him about her doubts and worries when it comes to the church, her friends and the things that happen in West River.  However Lacey's parents don't approve of Ty, and when "bad" things start happening to Lacey's friends, she finds it easier to talk to Ty and more difficult to talk to her parents.  All of a sudden, Lacey finds herself questioning what she believes and how she has been raised and wonders if she'll be able to resolve the two.

I know there was a time that I realized that my parents - and some of their views - were wrong.  I also know that my own personal faith/values journey has been more extreme than that of most.  In my lifetime I've been on the extreme ends of many ethical/religious arguments.  And I think I've come to a pretty happy place in who I am, what my values are and what I believe.  While reading Small Town Sinners I heard my own voice and my own thoughts echoed in what Lacey Ann was going through.  I remember times where I was so angry at my parents because I didn't think they could hear me (and sometimes, honestly, they couldn't) and other times where, in hindsight, they could hear me, but their wisdom was beyond my understanding.

Walker has created a wonderful cast of characters who are more honest than many teens think they can be - with themselves, each other and the adults in their lives - who I think will both speak to and encourage young people struggling with who they are and what they believe.  I also love the way she portrays West River!  It is a christian community that is wholly human - they make mistakes in their pursuit of the Kingdom of God, but for the most part, the people don't forget that they are merely human.  Often times people outside of the christian community don't understand the "zeal" of "believers" and see them, as, well crazy zealots.  And, admittedly, some people - regardless of faith tradition - are crazy zealots.  Walker clearly and plainly brings humanity, respect and dignity to the "zealots" in her book, allowing the reader to disagree with their beliefs, but still respect them for their dedication.  It's amazing.

I would recommend this to anyone who has a friend or family member they consider a "religious zealot".  I would also recommend this to parents whose children are starting to stretch their own wings and figure out who they are, as well as the children (pardon me...I mean teenagers - they HATE being called children) starting to realize their parents don't have all the answers.  It's an excellent book that shows the many perspectives of any given issue and how to love those around you regardless of their perspective.  I will say, I'm not sure it's appropriate for middle grade

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