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.I’ll just come right out and admit that this book drove me crazy until three-fourths of the way through. I didn’t exactly have a problem with the fact that it was overtly religious and dealt with issues like teen pregnancy, abortion, and homosexuality from a very conservative standpoint--it’s more that I couldn’t stand the way the characters, especially Lacey, seemed to accept things with blind faith and accept what her parents and church told her without questioning. Even when Lacey starts having doubts, she still came off as incredibly naïve to me.
So those things were bugging me for most of the book, and honestly at some points the only reason I kept reading was that I had bought the book so I felt obligated to read it. But then about three-fourths of the way through, I realized my expectations of the book were completely wrong. I was expecting it to be about Lacey having doubts about her faith then either finding her way back or not. But towards the end it dawned on me that the book’s actually about Lacey learning to think for herself. And when I viewed the book from that perspective, it completely changed my attitude. It was way less frustrating to me after that.
One thing that I really enjoyed about the book was Lacey’s group of friends. As much as Lacey could annoy me sometimes, she never stopped being a good friend, and I really admired that. She and her friends are so close and so supportive, which I appreciated since it seems to me like friends in contemporary YAs are often superficial or actually frenemies.
Also the whole Hell House idea simultaneously fascinated me and creeped me out. Hell House is this haunted house the youth of the church put on that dramatizes different sins and their consequences in an effort to get people to change their lives. And it sounded like the most intense thing ever. Seriously. Like, in the room that’s subject is abortion, they have a girl on a hospital bed screaming with fake blood running down her legs while the doctor throws away a “fetus” made of hamburger meat. It was so gross but still fascinating. Hell House is definitely not something I would ever go to in real life, but I was perversely drawn to it at the same time, and for a while the Hell House scenes were the only reason I kept reading the book.
Overall, although this book and I didn’t get off to a good start, by the end I ended up, if not exactly liking it, at least appreciating the message it was trying to get across. And even if the whole religion aspect seems like it might turn you off, maybe give it a try anyway, because the message about learning to think for yourself rather than relying on what your parents, friends, or community believe is a lesson applicable to everyone.