Missing May


By Cynthia Rylant

In Missing May, Rylant tells the story of a twelve-year old girl named Summer who lives with her distant relatives Ob and May after her mother passes away. The story’s core is about Summer and Ob coping with the death of May. For awhile, the two subsided their true grief, feeling the emptiness of left with May’s passing. Life seemed less joyous and meaningful with her gone.

One morning reliable old Ob, who usually runs like clockwork, didn’t get out of bed. Summer is deeply concerned that Ob has given up on life without May. She can’t let him give up because she knows he will die, so Summer and Cletus (one of Summer’s schoolmates who likes to hang around with Ob) make it their mission to help Ob make contact with May. The three decide to take a trip to a Spiritualist church that Cletus discovered to visit the pastor who claims to be able to communicate with the deceased.

Although the trip doesn’t work out as they intended, Ob and May find peace with missing May.

Rylant carefully crafts this book through a juxtaposition of sentimentality and humor. Listen to the beautiful sentiments expressed in the regarding what Summer thinks May would tell her:  “…that it’s okay to grab for something or somebody that’s being swept away from you. She’d tell us to hold on tight because we’re all meant to be together. We’re all meant to need each other. She’d just remind us that there’s more places to be together than this one. She’d tell us we don’t have to give up if this life doesn’t give us everything we want. There’s always another one.” (23) This sentimentality seems so profound to come from a twelve-year old, which helps us understand the impact that May had on Summer’s life and world view.

On the other hand, Rylant also provides comic relief: “Cletus was wearing this hat with the fake fur earflaps, and once I got a crazy urge to giggle when I thought of those flaps flapping and Cletus rising up like Charlie Brown’s Snoopy and flying across the garden and away.” (35) Although one might think that this juxtaposition might conflict, it works well to aide in the characterization of the main players in the story. It is as if Rylant changes the tone of her writing based on the way we are supposed to feel about the character being described. In the aforementioned passage, Cletus is a character that we are only supposed to take half-seriously and these types of descriptions aide in that character-building.

The theme of love throughout the book is very touching. I found myself re-reading certain passages because I felt genuinely moved.

  • “I never saw two people love each other so much. Sometimes the tears would just come over me, looking at the two of them, even six years back when I first got here and was too young to be thinking about love.” (4)
  • “She must have known she wasn’t going to live and she must have held me longer than any other mother might, so I’d have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again.” (4)

Rylant’s writing style stays true to her typical stylings as described in my last post. She uses short, choppy sentences (“Caged and begging.”) to contrast other sentences that seem to go on and on (“The rain came all day and all night and all the next day till finally the mountain couldn’t soak up the water anymore and down it washed, down the creek bed, a solid wall of water twenty feet high, down into the valley where May and her people lay fast asleep.”)


2 Responses to “Missing May”

  1. 1 Amy Moser

    Rylant detailed a story that was moving to the emotions, yet provided comic relief at times within her characters. Love is a central based theme, as you said. But it also shows the power of this specific emotion and how it can “inform and transform grief.” And with that, Summer and Ob were able to start fresh in their lives, while keeping May’s spirit alive in their hearts.

  2. 2 leslie

    I enjoyed Cletus’s character and the “comic relief” that he provided to the novel. Cletus, through Rylant’s portrayal of him and creative nature, was able to provide Summer and Ob with moments of escape from their present emotions, while also leading them to keep living. I think the fact that Summer had been moved around a lot as a child, she could relate to Cletus because they both had qualities that made them different from most children. I was happy to see a bond create between them, whereas at the begin Summer had a bad taste in her mouth about Cletus.

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