Desert Isle Keeper
Melissa Scholes Young’s terrific southern coming of age tale is an interesting character portrait that manages to combine an emotional slice-of-life tale with a feminist mien that makes the entire experience a fascination.
The Fehler Sisters – teenage Tammy and Kate, college-bound Jules, and recent high school graduate Maggie – are living in Missouri together in 2007, and for all intents and purposes to outsiders, they seem to be the picture of a perfect southern conservative Catholic family, with a traditional, hardworking father – Robbie – and a submissive wife and mother, Grace. Their inherited business is all about nature and the removal thereof – the Fehler Family Pest Control Company. The girls are going to Catholic school together – for secretly liberal Jules and secretly pregnant beauty queen wannabe Tammy, who worships the Kardashian sisters, this is a trial. Free-spirited and unpredictable Kate, meanwhile, has some ingenious ideas to expand the extermination business – and her slow-developing crush on her friend, Lila, is something she thinks she can’t share with her family.
It’s their father Robbie’s death that will change everything. Robbie – wanting his daughters to have identities and careers separate from the business – changed his will three months before his death and has divided shares of his property equally between his four daughters and a step cousin, the delicate Bryan, depriving his wife of control over the family’s assets, which they quickly learn are nil thanks to Robbie’s poor business choices bankrupting them. Rebellious Maggie, who had already been helping out at the office, is outraged by this turn of events – she’d been planning on taking over the business at her father’s retirement, and is now simply the company’s general manager. It’s bad enough she knows that her father hired their new short-skirted secretary for non-clerical reasons.
For Grace – a doomsday prepper who listens nearly exclusively to conservative talk radio hosts and thinks she’s the only thing standing between her family and certain death – this is a chance to save her family from everyone. Even low-rent Travis, the lackey from the pest control company, with whom she’s been having a secret affair.
As Tammy tries to decide between marrying her boyfriend Wade or raising her baby alone, Jules’ college escape becomes complicated, Maggie tries to cope with her father’s betrayal, Grace slides deeper and deeper into the prepper community with Travis at her side, and budding biologist Kate tries to develop a new system of insect detection to help the family business out, the Fehlers try to face the future with flags flying high. But in life, as in fiction, it’s not that easy.
The Hive is a pretty perfect peek into life into a certain kind of family – Midwestern but not as traditionalist as it thinks it is – as politics, future fears and dreams collide with the harsh realities of life. The Fehler sisters are family though – they manage to figure out that they need each other to survive, even the wanderlust-y Jules. You may think you have read this kind of novel before, but there’s a sense of earthy wisdom to this one that makes it feel fresh and new. These are the kinds of people you’ve met or know – perhaps glancingly, perhaps close up.
Family growth, new love affairs, dreams denied and come to fruition – the Fehlers all go through the motions and come out the other end stronger. What makes the novel stand out and come alive though, is Scholes Young’s incredibly lively, spirited, piss-and-vinegar prose, which makes the girls’ travails incredibly interesting to follow. Everyone – the male characters too – are imperfect, allowed to make mistakes and grow.
One thing I did find a little bemusing was the book’s reliance on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as its characters’ personal bible – the Twain connection felt ill-fitting here, unlike in Young’s previous book.
That’s not enough to keep The Hive from the keeper shelf. Many readers will enjoy its easy way of capturing life in Missouri, fall for the Fehler clan, and the ordinary wonder of their lives.
Note: This novel contains a character who self-harms through cutting.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
|Review Date:||June 13, 2021|
|Book Type:||Women's Fiction|
|Review Tags:||Missouri | Southern|
I love her first book Flood. It’s a worthwhile and fun read. I’ll add this one to my TBR!
Hope you like it as much as I did!