In her newest novel The Hive (Keylight Press, 2021), Melissa Scholes Young defines what it truly means to be a family as the Fehlers come together to save their pest-control business. The Hive is a moving portrait of the four Fehler sisters and their mother learning to balance their grief over the sudden loss of family patriarch Robert Fehler with their own aspirations and identities. Told from the perspective of each Fehler woman, their respective stories present the struggle with finding independence in their conservative rural community while continuously being drawn back to the family “hive”.
Through alternating points of view, the reader is able to deeply connect with each of the characters. Maggie, the eldest sister, has worked at Fehler Family Exterminating since she was ten years old and has always been expected to take over the company one day. However, she frequently finds herself being underestimated and overlooked by men in the business because of her gender, especially while trying to save Fehler’s business amidst an economic recession. Maggie’s familiar frustration to make herself heard in a male-dominated society is one that many female readers can relate to. Additionally, her struggle confronts the flaws in the patriarchal-focused mindset that prevents women from chasing their dreams.
By contrast, Jules wants nothing to do with the family business. Despite doing what is expected of her by majoring in business, Jules is drawn to pursuing a creative writing career and anything unrelated to extermination. At college, Jules grows into the person that her small Catholic town prevented her from being—she becomes a vegetarian, establishes her own political beliefs that oppose her family’s, and even falls in love with a Black man, which is frowned upon in her community. While Jules wants nothing more than to escape the hive so she can be herself, the Fehler’s familial ties—and their shaky finances—bring her back home.
Likewise, Kate begins to consider her own identity as she questions her sexuality. Kate’s personality is a mix of her mother’s and father’s: she is extremely analytical and likes to prepare for anything, but she also wishes she was able to take on the “manly” extermination tasks like her father. She often finds herself thinking of her friend Lila, an attraction she attempts to deny in spite of herself. Both Jules and Kate grapple with finding the balance between fulfilling the societal expectations enforced upon them by their community and being their true selves. Both Jules and Kate depict a similar struggle that resonate with readers: the yearning to love who you want to love, the desire to pursue interests that go against the “norm”, and the longing for acceptance.
Meanwhile, Tammy—similar to Jules—wants to get rid the “bug girl” title she and her sisters are referred to for a thriving career of her own. Tammy is determined to win the Miss Cape Girardeau Pageant and have a successful future away from her hometown after graduating high school—one that will hopefully include her boyfriend, Wade. However, her plans are derailed when she finds out that she is pregnant. Determined to hide it from her family for as long as possible, Tammy tries to ignore her new reality, which solidifies the very future she wants to run from, one where she becomes tied down to her town and Fehler Family Exterminating for the rest of her life.
Tammy’s unforeseen future mirrors her mother, Grace’s. Grace resents the family business and her husband, Robert, who she settled to marry at eighteen. Her only concerns are preparing for the seemingly inevitable end of the world and hiding her affair from her family. Grace’s fixation on survival reflects how she feels being tied down to a husband she barely tolerates and a matriarchal position she silently considers running from. Grace’s marriage was forced on her, a union formed out of responsibility and tradition rather than love, so she spends her time preparing for other circumstances that are out of her control. Both Tammy and Grace are forced into uncertain futures they do not want because of religion and to give up their aspirations for the sake of family. They also experience the mental repercussions of actively defying their faith, a guilt expressed so clearly readers can easily empathize with it.
Though each character has their own obstacles they must overcome independently, the Fehler clan comes together in the face of their uncertain futures for Fehler Family Exterminating. With five distinct voices, the Fehler womens’ stories are guaranteed to connect with readers and remind them of the importance of family as the Fehler’s learn that each day is not guaranteed. The Hive centers around the feeling we all crave: a sense of belonging. Whether in your family, your workplace, or your community, the Fehlers’ moving journeys for acceptance is a poignant reminder that everyone has a hive to fly back to.
Victoria Carrubba is a senior English Publishing Studies student at Hofstra University. She is currently a tutor at her university’s writing center and a copyeditor for The Hofstra Chronicle. She has also worked on her university’s literary magazines, Font and Growl, and was previously a fiction editor for Windmill Journal. Outside of work, she can be found reading, dancing, painting, or drinking chai.
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