meet along the way: Melissa Scholes Young

This story was first published as “Examining Roots: Novel ‘The Hive’ set in Cape Girardeau” in the March 2022 issue of “TBY.”

How did the recession in 2008 lead to the events and effects of the 2016 and 2020 elections?

That’s the question Melissa Scholes Young set out to explore while writing “The Hive,” a novel about the four Fehler sisters — and their mother — as they work to ensure their family’s pest control business supports their family in the wake of their father’s sudden death. Throughout their journey, they confront their political differences, together; Scholes Young says it’s a story about class in middle America and female succession, an exploration of what happens to a family business when there is no male heir.

The novel is set in Cape Girardeau.

“I wanted the Fehlers to be an example of middle America and that political divide. So I wanted their dinner table, really, to be a safe place to kind of sort where we are as a nation,” Scholes Young says. “You inherit all these things from a place, from your town, from your family, but you also have an opportunity to examine them, too.”

Scholes Young grew up in Hannibal, Mo., in a family who, like the Fehlers, ran a pest control business. A first-generation college student, Scholes Young often visited Cape Girardeau while she lived in Carbondale, Ill., as an adult; she says she loves that there are so many paths that diverge from Cape Girardeau and the way the downtown is vibrant with arts and culture, surrounded by conservatism. She says she thought this would make an interesting setting for a politically-divided family like the Fehlers.

She believes staying curious about people and lifestyles different from one’s own is the key to healing political and geographical divides in our country.

“When you boil things down like the Fehler family does to actual issues, they agree on a lot, right? They agree on the values based on investing in their community. They agree on family. They agree on taking care of themselves and helping their neighbor. They agree on values, but somehow, when we start putting political labels on those values, I think we misunderstand each other,” Scholes Young says. “I’m hoping that fiction and especially writers like me can bridge that gap because I’ve lived in rural communities, and I’ve lived in urban communities, and I can speak both languages, and I’m hoping that fiction can make those conversations more able.”

The idea for the novel came to Scholes Young while she attended a three-day prepper camp in rural North Carolina, which she went to in order to understand the line between preparedness and paranoia. She says she expected to find “extremists” at the camp, but instead, found “hippies” learning to compost, can food and keep bees in order to sustain themselves and not rely on “another political force that might let [them] down.” This research helped her write the character of Grace, the Fehler sisters’ mother, as a survivalist.

During the writing process, Scholes Young says she wrote the book five times, once from each character’s point of view. She then decided which character needed to speak in each part of the book, rewriting the characters’ sections from beginning to end separately. Each character’s story, she says, took approximately one month to write.

There are many ways to be a family, Scholes Young says, and this novel is a family story about the Fehlers’ way, trying their best and that effort not always being good enough, but staying and sticking with each other, anyway. She hopes the book helps readers engage with people who are different from themselves; one can be just as isolated in a borough of New York City as in a rural region, she says, and just as worldly on a dirt road in Hannibal, Mo., as in an urban area.

The key to understanding, she says, is curiosity that leads to empathy.

“I hope that readers in Cape Girardeau see their own complicated story. All of our stories are complicated, and you can love and you can question your roots. So I hope that every reader is able to do that,” Scholes Young says. “I’ve written one version of Cape Girardeau, but it’s not the only version. There’s many versions of Cape Girardeau. … There’s many versions of the Midwest. So this is just a portrait of one moment in time specifically, and I also hope readers understand how the recession has affected middle America.”

“The Hive” published in hardback June 8, 2021; check out the upcoming paperback version, out May 24, 2022.