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Hannibal native, author Melissa Scholes Young sets debut novel in hometown

Hannibal native Melissa Scholes Young is the author of "Flood."
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri native Melissa Scholes Young has fond memories of growing up in Hannibal.

“It is a welcome community, it is a place where I’m really proud to be from,” Young told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Thursday. “It is what I still consider my hometown even though I left there when I was 17. I always return to my roots and I’m very aware of the way that being raised in a place with hardworking people ... how that has affected where I’ve gone in the world and the way I live my life.”

“Flood” is a contemporary and female twist on the classic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn stories. Both Mark Twain’s tales and that of Young’s are set in Hannibal.

The plot of “Flood” is about a white woman named Laura Brooks who returns to Hannibal after having fled from a historic flood when she was 18. The main character’s return to Missouri for a high school reunion is deluged by her contentious past. The trip also brings to light long-standing issues of slavery, racism and division.

“I wondered why none of the contestants were people of color,” Young said of her childhood memories of the Tom and Becky pageant, where young men and women vie to represent the community as Tom [Sawyer] and Becky [Thatcher], as part of the town’s annual National Tom Sawyer Days.

“I should have been very aware of it growing up but I think it really took me growing up and me being able to look at it through grown-up eyes in order to understand, but I think that is such a modern conversation,” Young said, explaining that the racial makeup of Hannibal is still 90 percent white.

She said that Hannibal, in recent years, has come to recognize reprehensible actions such as slavery – a past all too common across much of the country.

In 2010, Jim’s Journey opened at the Huck Finn Freedom Center. It recognizes Mark Twain’s under-represented literary character, Jim, a slave who escaped and befriended Huck Finn. Jim was based on a real person, Daniel Quarles.

Young’s novel also incorporates historical facts. Each chapter begins with a vignette about local history that helps move the novel along.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.