Melissa Scholes Young's fiercely honest and atmospheric debut novel, “Flood,” is a contemporary story set in Hannibal, the town made famous by Mark Twain and his enduring literary creations Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Melissa Scholes Young’s fiercely honest and atmospheric debut novel, “Flood,” is a contemporary story set in Hannibal, the town made famous by Mark Twain and his enduring literary creations Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Young, a native of Hannibal, taps into many of the themes of the great writer’s work — the need for adventure, complicated ties to home, staking identity, emotional yearning — in a story about a young woman’s return to the town that both haunts her and draws her back. And as with Twain’s work, the river itself, the restless Mississippi, offers more than a mere backdrop, becoming a metaphor for the deep-running ties that bind us.

At 28, Laura Brooks never intended to come back to Hannibal for more than a fly-by visit. She left the town right after high school, studying nursing in St. Louis, before landing in Florida. But her life has not worked out as she dreamed, and after losing her job, and miscarrying an unplanned pregnancy, she makes her way back to Hannibal as a temporary fix. Little has changed there. Her resentful mother still lives in the same trailer near the river where Laura and her brother, Trey, grew up without a father. And Laura’s best friend, Rose, is living through the inevitable ugly divorce of couples who marry too young.

Yet, there are still things that Laura loves about the town. With the Fourth of July approaching, the community is enmeshed in its annual contest to choose a Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher from among the local kids, and Rose’s son, Bobby — whom Laura loves as if he were her own — is a contender. Laura developed a love for the literary legacy of Hannibal’s native son thanks to an encouraging high school teacher, and she figures the least she can do is try to help Bobby snag the role. And then there is the mighty Mississippi itself, eternal and inspiring. Flood warnings are in effect, though, just as they were the fateful summer ten years before when Laura left town, after the levees broke and her heart was broken, too, by a boy named Sammy.

Laura is quickly embroiled in the small-town dramas, including those involving Rose and her estranged husband, and Trey’s dreams to buy some land. Her high school reunion, and all that implies, fast approaches. But it is when Sammy resurfaces that the emotional turbulence of the past fully floods back into her life. Like Huck before her, Laura’s impulse is to flee. If she makes the difficult choice to stay, though, there is always a chance at love — and at a rebuilt life in the place that, try as she might, she can never stop calling home.

“Melissa Scholes Young's first novel delivers two unforgettable characters: the exhausted but not down-for-the-count Laura Brooks running back to her hometown of Hannibal, Missouri and the Mississippi River — both looking to climb out of their confines and willing to become displaced in the process,” says Dr. Cindy Lovell, former Executive Director, Mark Twain House & Museum. “Fans of Mark Twain's beloved work will recognize “Flood's” conflicted characters and endearing contradictions. Like Twain, Laura Brooks tells the truth, mainly...”

Melissa Scholes Young was born and raised in Hannibal, and still proudly claims it as her hometown. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, Poets & Writers and other literary journals. She teaches at American University in Washington, D.C. www.melissascholesyoung.com .