cover image Small Town Sinners

Small Town Sinners

Melissa Walker. Bloomsbury, $16.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59990-527-3

Both tender and provocative, this coming-of-age story takes place in a small evangelical town famous for a graphic, terrifying Hell House staged every Halloween by the House of Enlightenment. Sixteen-year-old narrator Lacey, a pastor's daughter, wins the coveted role of "Abortion Girl" after the previously cast girl gets sent away to a residence for pregnant teens. Sharing her father's belief that "You got to shake 'em to wake 'em," Lacey embraces her responsibility to show others "what the consequences are if you don't accept Jesus into your heart." Disrupting her certainty in literal biblical interpretations is gorgeous Ty Davis, returning to town after a decade-long absence, rekindling first-grade friendships and asking thoughtful questions that challenge Lacey's convictions. While the combined sincerity and extremism of the Hell House production is viscerally shocking, Walker (Lovestruck Summer) creates an astutely balanced portrait of a conservative congregation's in-your-face response to perennial issues of domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, and suicide, as well as of those who struggle to fit the prescribed Christian mold. (July)