HANNIBAL, Mo. -- What happens if you need to go home -- a place where your roots were planted but not the place where your identity bloomed? Is it possible to return home and not be changed by the very place that first molded who you would become?
These are some of the themes Hannibal native Melissa Scholes Young explores in her debut novel, "Flood."
In the story, 28-year-old Laura's life hasn't worked out the way she thought it would, and she temporarily returns home to Hannibal. Fourth of July is coming up and so is National Tom Sawyer Days.
Laura's best friend, Rose, is going through a divorce, and Rose's son, Bobby, is a contender for portraying Tom Sawyer. While Laura works with Bobby to help him become the next official Tom, flood warnings are in effect, as they were a decade earlier, before Laura left town.
Ten years ago, a boy named Sammy broke Laura's heart, and while she's back in Hannibal, the two get in touch. Laura's impulse is to flee, but if she stays in Hannibal, she knows she has a chance at love and rebuilding her life in the place she'll never stop calling home.
Mark Twain's legacy in Scholes Young's hometown influenced her novel.
"Having roots here has guided me in my writing. I wanted to tell an exodus story that paralleled Samuel Clemens' own, but I wasn't interested in the familiar, ‘Can you go home again?' as much as, ‘What happens if you have to?'" she said.
"Growing up reading ‘Tom Sawyer,' I always saw myself as Huck. With ‘Flood,' I really wanted to tell a female Huck and Tom story."
Scholes Young's idea for "Flood" first came about when she read an article about the Mississippi River running backward after a series of earthquakes in the early 1800s. After finishing the article, she wanted to creatively write around the theme of recalibration.
Scholes Young wrote a short story featuring Laura and Rose and then expanded it into a novel. From drafting the story to publishing it, "Flood" was a five-year process.
"I hope readers see that the stories we tell ourselves are complicated," she explained. "Some choose to leave their hometown and forge a new path. And some choose to stay and invest their futures here. As Aunt Betty in the novel suggests, ‘Bloom where you're planted.' "
The novel's publication date is June 27, and Scholes Young will begin a book tour at Left Bank Books in St. Louis. She will be in Hannibal the following weekend to present her book.
"I wanted to launch this book in the Midwest. It matters to me to come home," she said.
Scholes Young will share her experience writing, selling and publishing her first novel at 4 p.m. Friday, June 30, at the Hannibal Arts Council, 105 S. Main St. At 5 p.m. she'll read from the novel and then sign books, which will be available for sale.
The author will discuss how Mark Twain's work influenced her at 5 p.m. Saturday, July 1, at the Mark Twain Museum, 120 N. Main St.
"If I can write a book, anybody can. When I first started out, I didn't know anybody in the writing industry and what to do," she said, explaining that she hopes to educate others about what she's learned through the process.
"I think we're all writers. We just have to give ourselves permission to tell our stories. My family taught me hard work, and that paid off for this writer. I can't wait to share this book and to thank my community for all of their support."
Scholes Young is already working on a second novel, which is about four sisters in rural Ohio.
Scholes Young graduated from Hannibal High School in 1993 and attended Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill. She now teaches college writing and creative writing at American University in Washington, D.C.
She'll be a guest judge during one of the fence- painting contests at this year's National Tom Sawyer Days.
"This may be my biggest achievement in life yet," she said with a laugh.