Hannibal, Missouri, on the Mississippi River flood plain—not only the setting for Mark Twain’s most celebrated novels, but also the hometown of Laura Brooks, who grew up to flee her trailer home for life as a nurse in Florida. But now Laura is back, and the river is rising.
Hannibal resident Young’s debut is grounded in a familiar scenario: “A poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks without a daddy” escapes from a difficult home to a new life and then finds herself returning, to lick her wounds and regroup. Laura has come back to her hardscrabble birthplace after losing her job to hospital cutbacks and secretly suffering a miscarriage. Hannibal offers the reassurance of the familiar—not just memories, family, and friends, but also the still-thrilling presence of Sammy, “my one big love,” now a local farmer and recently divorced. On the downside, Laura’s wild brother, Trey, may be dealing meth, and her best friend, Rose, is caught up in a bruising custody battle with local bad boy Josh. Young expands her simple setup by alternating Laura’s story with extracts from a Twain primer written for schoolchildren who are candidates in the town’s annual Tom-and-Becky contest. She also includes some politics: the local levees protect visitors and the wealthy but leave the poor and the farmers at flood risk. And then there’s the issue of race, relevant both to Twain’s work and the town’s past and present. But at heart this is Laura’s story. Will the flood destroy those she loves? Will she forgive Sammy for the sin that originally split them up? Will she and her mother find peace and reconciliation? Will she stay, or will she go?
There’s a teen-novel flavor to this gently educational getting-of-wisdom story. As one wise character recommends: “Bloom where you are planted.”