SMALL TOWN SINNERS revolves around a church’s production of a Hell House – a Christian alternative to a haunted house. Lacey Anne Byer covets the lead role of “abortion girl” – but when an old classmate, Ty, returns to town, Lacey begins to question if she really wants to star in hell house after all.
Back when I was a teen in Ohio, my church put on a version of Hell House called Reality House. I talk more about that later, but first, let's discuss the novel.
Hell House presents a parade of sins – from abortion to spouse abuse to online porn. A Demon Guide leads visitors from sin to sin and finally to judgment. It’s pretty controversial stuff – especially the lines the demon guide says as he condemns the various sinners to hell. During the few weeks of rehearsals, Lacey has to deal with friends going through teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse as well as having her eyes opened to the possibility that one of her close friends is homosexual. As Lacey deepens her relationship with Ty – much to her parents displeasure – she is encouraged to approach all kinds of sinners with more compassion and realizes that one cannot simply take over one’s parents values without questioning them first.
This type of storyline is full of landmines, but Author Melissa Walker treats her characters with sensitivity – never letting them become one-note stereotypes. Lacey Anne was pretty similar to Christian teens I grew up with - sheltered, committed to the church and blissfully unaware of her own prejudices. I liked that a romance with Ty was the catalyst for Lacey realizing that things aren't as black and white as she had always thought. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending, but I can at least understand why Lacey made the choices she did. Also, even though I thought I knew what Hell House was, I was pretty shocked by the extreme way it was staged.
Reality House at my church was very mild in comparison. I participated for four years and though each year had a different storyline, the basic structure was the same. The first year, visitors attended a “party” and then piled into a van. The van had an “accident” and then everyone was delivered to the morgue. The doctor put each individual on a tray and pushed him or her into a refrigerated drawer. He or she would emerge in a coffin in the funeral home (I usually played a mourner in this scene). After the funeral, they were taken to judgment where God cast them into hell. Hell was full of strobe lights and teens dressed in black that would jump out and try to scare the group. At the end, there were counselors standing by in case anyone wanted to talk about God, death, and the afterlife. Cost of entry was one canned good that we donated to a food bank. I enjoyed the experience and am very glad that my church never put on the more extreme Hell House version. I'd likely have nightmares still!
SMALL TOWN SINNERS comes out TODAY and is available for purchase now. Find out more about it at the author’s website.