Missing May is my favorite book of all time. Written as a children’s/young teen novel, I feel that this is a book parents and children should read together, although I loved it as an adult.
The author, Cynthia Rylant, once said, "They say to be a writer you must first have an unhappy childhood. I don't know if unhappiness is necessary, but I think maybe some children who have suffered a loss too great for words grow up into writers who are always trying to find those words, trying to find a meaning for the way they have lived."
Summer has lost her parents at a very young age and has been passed around several relatives who don't want her before she is finally adopted by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob (who have always wanted children but could never have any). She lives a happy life with them until May dies suddenly while gardening. The story is how Summer and Ob cope with their grief, often not knowing how to help each other. When Summer's friend Cletus tells them about a medium who claims to be able to contact the departed, they decide to go on a summer trip to consult with her, hoping to hear from May again. And they do, but not in the way they'd expected. The encounter is spellbinding and believable.
From Chapter 1: "When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night. That old car had been parked out by the doghouse for as long as I could remember, and the weeds had grown up all around it so you didn’t even notice it unless you looked, and for years I couldn’t understand why Ob didn’t just get rid of the awful thing. Until I saw him sitting in it after the funeral. Then I knew that even though nobody in the world figured that old car had any good purpose, Ob knew there was some real reason to let it sit. And when May died, he figured out what it was. 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. But I guess I must have had a deep part of me thinking about it, hoping to see it all along, because the first time I saw Ob help May braid her long yellow hair, sitting in the kitchen one night, it was all I could do not to go to the woods and cry forever from happiness.”
This beautifully written simple and sweet story is injected with just the right touches of humor and mysticism.
Missing May is a critically acclaimed winner of the Newbery Medal in 1993 and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and has joined Scholastic's paperback line. It grieves me to read all the one and two star reviews, written presumably by a group of schoolchildren as a class assignment that included writing a review. One reviewer titled their review: "Teachers worship it; Kids squash hornets with it." And another stated, “At the beginning of this year, the whole sixth grade was assigned to read this book; no one liked it. The characters were blank, and just about as lively as a stone. They spent the whole book wallowing in their self-pity. I had to force myself to read it, and now it is shoved out of my sight and under the bed.”
But, then there are the rave reviews, one of them mine: "Missing May isn't about vampires or zombies or other worlds as most of the "one star" reviewers seem to have expected.” And "Missing May is the most beautiful book I've ever read. I call it my 'Happy Book.' Whenever I feel sad, I read it, and it lifts my spirits.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Missing May is especially good for those who have lost a close relative or friend...and isn't that just about all of us?