…On Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker

Posted June 3, 2012 by Asheley in Uncategorized / 12 Comments

Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker
Published by Bloomsbury
Publish Date: July 19, 2011
259 Pages
Source: Borrowed from Tara at Hobbitsies
(You can read Hobbitsies’ review HERE)

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 Goodreads)

Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker 

My Thoughts: Okay, you guys, a book like this one is a perfect example of why I am so glad I am doing this Contemporary Month: I have found a new author to love! Small Town Sinners is the second book I have read by Melissa C. Walker. I picked it up just minutes after finishing her latest book, Unbreak My Heart (featured here tomorrow). What I have learned from these two books is that this author is not afraid to tackle the big stuff, and she does it in a way that makes you feel complete intensity and yet you aren’t turned off by what she is throwing at you. I’m amazed by this.

Lacey Anne Byer is the 16-year-old daughter of super-strict parents. She’s a good girl, the kind who has a ‘family’ birthday party instead of a ‘regular’ party, complete with red velvet cupcakes and the gift of a new Bible instead of a car. With BFF’s Starla Joy and Dean by her side, Lacey Anne cruises thru life helping the church to win souls and genuinely maintaining her squeaky clean image. She has always dreamed of having one big movie moment in her life, something defining. She is more than thrilled that she is finally old enough to try out for the role of Abortion Girl at the annual production of Hell House, which is put on by her church, the House of Enlightenment.

Ok – I want to stop here for one second because things are about to get REAL. As in, Hell House (aka Judgment House) does exist. It’s a production put on in various places across the US (and possibly other places) using various scenarios to show a crowd different kinds of sin and the effects of that particular sin, and then Satan comes out to address the audience. My experience – yes, experience – with these events is that they are usually around Halloween and people come in by the bus and vanloads, are shuffled through in groups, one after another, for several nights. These scenarios may be things like a car accident where someone dies, a suicide, or Lacey Anne’s ever-coveted role, the Abortion Girl. (This is not me judging or offering one viewpoint or another on these places – I’m simply saying they exist and this is a very limited summary of my experience with them.)

So while Lacey Anne studies the lines, practices, and tries out for the role of Abortion Girl, some things are happening around her tightly-structured and controlled community of friends. Lacey begins to want more freedom associated with turning 16 and driving, she begins a new relationship with a boy, and one of her friends becomes pregnant. Lacey notices through all of this, as she soldiers on with Hell House’s production, that her parents seem to become more controlling of her and more judgmental of the people around her. She begins to wonder if they’ve always been this judgmental and she’s never seen it (meaning she may be judgmental too) or are they NOT practicing what they preach? I’m telling you, it’s big stuff.


This book is absolutely intense and amazing. There are so many issues and things packed in here, explored tightly and almost expertly, and presented back in a way that you don’t even feel “preached to.” I’m not sure how Melissa Walker was able to do it so well, because there was certainly room for me to close this book and fling it across the room, but I just never wanted to. I was so invested in every single part of the story, even as I tensed up at certain times or held my breath at other times. And yes, I burned my keyboard up on Twitter because I had to find someone to talk to while I was reading.

Lacey Anne’s boyfriend, Ty Davis, is awesome. He’s awesome because he has meaningful conversations with her and he asks her questions that cause her to think without making her feel judged. He challenges her to think about herself, and isn’t that what we all need – somebody to just talk to us and ask us questions and be invested in us just a little bit? YES, IT IS. Also, the two of them represent a couple in their situation really well because they really struggle with maintaining a lifestyle befitting of believing churchgoers, and yet they are able to admit what they are feeling and what they want. AND they do break the rules a time or two, which happens! Even good kids break the rules sometimes, you guys! Everybody does! Ty has a bit of mystery to him but it isn’t the standard mysterious guy syndrome that some people cannot stand – he has reasons for the way he is.

Lacey Anne’s friends are great too, because they are not perfect. They struggle with big stuff, perhaps maybe even bigger than Lacey Anne. Lacey Anne has to watch them struggle and it is hard for her because she loves them so much.

Lacey Anne’s parents – her Dad in particular – are just shockingly horrible. And also perfectly written. I don’t want to say too much more about them except that Lacey Anne’s development as a character comes as much from their actions and the way they treat her (negatively) as it does from the way Ty treats her (positively).

Small Town Sinners is a small book that packs a huge, intense punch. I personally thought it was incredible. I’ve heard mostly very positive things about it from people who have grown up much like Lacey Anne AND from people who did not. There is a ton of religion discussed in the book, though, so be warned – BUT…I’m telling you that I did not think this book comes across as preachy. Melissa Walker is not using this book to sell religion, she is using it to tell a story about a girl and her growth as a person. If you like contemporary fiction and do not mind reading books with religion in them, this is one that I would absolutely suggest you pick up and read.

Small Town Sinners will appeal to fans of:

YA Contemporary
Books Containing Issues: tons of issues!

Small Town Sinners
by Melissa C. Walker
is currently available for purchase.


Have you read Small Town Sinners?
What did you think?
I’m curious!


About Asheley

Asheley is a Southern girl. She loves Carolina blue skies, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and NC craft beer. She loves all things history but prefers books over everything.

You can find her somewhere in North Carolina, daydreaming about the ocean.

Find Asheley on Litsy @intothehallofbooks!


12 responses to “…On Small Town Sinners by Melissa C. Walker

  1. It seems like everyone that has read this book has fallen completely and utterly IN LOVE with it. Remind me again why I haven't given it a shot?

    I love books that make you think (I also love books that don't… but I digress). Lacey sounds like a fantastic character – real and honest – and I'm veeeeery interested in seeing her growth as a character. That's always the best part of a novel for me if it's done well 🙂

    Thanks for the great review! <3


    • When I started this book, I was coming off of the high that was Unbreak My Heart (and it was fantastic too). I had heard great things and knew I'd probably like it because religion in books doesn't usually bother me. I didn't realize I'd like it as much as I did, however, and I really was impressed with how much intensity this author was able to write into her story without preaching at me. I'm so impressed and am definitely a fan. I'll be reading some of Melissa Walker's backlist, most likely, and I'll be reading what she has coming out in the future too. I highly recommend if you don't mind books that talk about religion. It's definitely one to make you think, but it is also very sweet and there is certainly character growth, which is something that I always always always love.

  2. So far I've only read one book by Melissa and that is Lovestruck Summer which is very different to this as it's more of a fun, beach-y, laid back, summer read. I read it a few years ago and really enjoyed it (those types of short, fluffly, frothy reads used to be my drug when I first started out reading YA) and ever since last year I heard about Small Town Sinners I've been intrigued. I dislike preachy books but I'm interested to see how the author handles the subject and manages to come across NOT preachy. Great review 🙂

  3. Thanks Rebecca. I think when people read the summary it can be deceiving because it might appear to be really preachy, but I just didn't find it to be that way – and a lot of my reading friends tend to agree. I have talked to one or two friends that were a little uncomfortable with the way Lacey Anne's parents treated her, but living in a similar situation to her – strict religious background, etc. – I found it to be written very true-to-life and still I feel that Melissa did a great job not being preachy. I think the concentration is more on Lacey Anne's development over time as a young girl, sort of coming-of-age, rather than preaching at us as readers. There is a sweet romance in there too, and the struggle Lacey Anne has with wanting to help her friends is really great. It's just one of my favorite contemps by far. I loved it. Read it quickly, not because it was short but because I loved it so much and was so invested in the characters. I recommend at least giving it a try. I haven't read Melissa's backlist but I have read Unbreak My Heart, which was also really amazing.

  4. i just started reading Unbreak My Heart (and I'm liking it so far)but it's good to read a review of Small Town Sinners because I sort of fall into that category of "Hmmm, looks interesting, but books with religious themes are tricky sometimes…" after hearing your thoughts I am much more open to reading it, because like you, I LOVE to see strong character development in a book. Add to that a coming of age story ( which is also awesome to read about) and I can see why you enjoyed this book so much. Great review, Asheley!

    • Oh I loved it, but I guess you can probably tell that. The jury's out on which I loved more between Small Town Sinners and Unbreak My Heart – they're both so so good but so different. I think I've found myself a contemp author that I just love, which is really a great thing considering I'm new to the genre. STS isn't preachy at all (in my opinion) and the coming-of-age and development was much bigger than the religion, although there was religion present. Religion never bothers me, in fact I tend to like those types of books, but I understand that not all people do so I like to put it out there so people know ahead of time what they're getting. But this one is way more than a religion book.

  5. I've been dying to get my hands on a copy of this book for a long, long time now. After reading your review I will probably go straight to Amazon to finally order it! It sounds truly amazing and I'm thrilled to hear that you found a new author to love! 🙂 I'm definitely intrigued 🙂

    I really appreciate books that can tackle difficult subject and relevant issues without being preachy or forceful about it. I do appreciate a good life lesson, but I don't like it to have a didactic feeling to it, and this book sounds like it just gets the point across without spoon-feeding. And I seriously admire authors who can construct a book in such a way.

    Thank you, Asheley, for including this book in your schedule! <3

    Oh- and the cover?! OH MY! I absolutely adore it!

    • If nothing else comes out of contemporary month (it will), I have found a new author to fangirl over and YAY she's from NC – love that. I absolutely love this book and Unbreak My Heart and I'll soon need to read her backlist. And yes, this cover is really pretty, especially in real life.

      Melissa Walker has done a great job of tackling some stuff without being forceful, and I think she just must be really good at that innately because she says in her interview (I think, or maybe her blog/website?) that she has worked with young people for a long time. She really has a great voice for YA. I'm super glad I read it and grateful to Tara @Hobbitsies for the solid recommend. She gives great recommendations!

  6. I'm so glad to hear you loved Small Town Sinners! It was one of my favorite contemps last year. I know the religion aspect bothered some people but it didn't seem preachy to me at all, it was just one of the things Lacey was struggling with. You're review made me want to read this one again :]

    • Jasmine, I loved this book so much. And Melissa's other book. She just wrote this one so well.

      I'm not afraid of religion in books and I don't shy away from it. In fact, I seem to be drawn to it for some reason, any kind of religion – but I'm pretty firm in my convictions and am just not bothered. But I really did appreciate that Melissa was able to include such a huge religion as such a huge part of this book without it being preachy – I'm not sure most authors would be able to do that. I'm really amazed at her ability in this case. Such a well-written book. And so discussable!

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