I was afraid to read this book. Like, nervous, biting my nails that it would be awful and get into the hands of thousands of teens and a poor message would be given to them. As Christian, I'm super skeptical of any book that talks about faith or faith practices in a negative light, or really even in a positive light, because so many authors just don't get it right. Even books labeled as "Christian fiction" are often unrealistic, sappy, and almost always wrap up too neatly...and we all know that life is messy.
Basically we have Lacey, a "good girl," raised in the church and in love with life. Her dream is to play the big role in her church's annual Hell House, and she knows that this is her year. When she meets befriends Ty Davis, the new guy in town, she starts to question everything her parents have taught her, her faith, her church's practices, etc., and decides to push some boundaries she hasn't ever even considered before.
I was absolutely thrilled to find the opposite of what I was expecting. After reading through just half of Melissa Walker's book, I knew I had found a truly eye-opening novel. For those that believe in God, you will be pleased with the writing and the manner in which Walker explains owning what you believe and for those that don't believe, don't care, or aren't sure what they think about God and the church, you'll enjoy it as well. The subject matter is handled in a non-biased and non-judgmental way, even when dealing with a event such as a Hell House. Everyone has something to learn and take away from the book, even if it's just a nice, intriguing story on something we don't hear a whole lot about in mainstream fiction.
The characters, especially Lacey Anne are relatable. They're real kids in America, allowing for the reader to really connect with what they're reading and the people they're reading about. Lacey begins as a girl with unstoppable faith, very strict in her beliefs, as she's been raised, but as the story progresses, she struggles with exactly what she believes, while continuing that strong faith. I really appreciated that part of the book. Lacey ends her experience still believing in God and the church, just a bit different than when her Hell House experience began. I love that she continues to stand up for herself, her God, and His word, even through her struggles:
"Those words tell the real truth of how I feel, without my own self-involvedness confusing me. That's what the Bible is there for. For me to lean on when I get in my own way." (177)
Hell Houses really take place in certain churches and though I haven't ever been in one (nor do I desire to), I think Walker probably did a great job at explaining what takes place and the reactions of the audience. I think teens reading this will be intrigued to learn more about exactly what a Hell House is and what the churches want their audience to get out of the experience, but I also hope they take away the importance of how dangerous taking the Bible in an exact, literal manner can be.
I finished this book satisfied and happy with what I had just read. Great job Melissa Walker!
Small Town Sinners