Missing May by Cynthia Rylant
Genre: Middlegrade Contemporary
Publisher: Yearling NewberyPublication Date: 1992
My mission to read all the Newbery winners continues with Missing May, the winner from 1993. This book is tiny—only 89 pages—but it has a lot of depth. The Newbery winners I’ve read so far have been hit or miss (mostly miss) with me. Sometimes, I have no idea what the award committee is thinking. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with Missing May. This little book deserves its Newbery.
When Summer’s Aunt May dies suddenly, her Uncle Ob changes. He no longer wants to build whirligigs, or work in the garden, or leave the house. Some days, he won’t even get out of bed. Summer doesn’t know what to do. Then, her neighbor, Cletus, suggests that Ob should visit a psychic medium and try to contact May. At first, Summer is skeptical. She doesn’t believe in psychics. But, she’ll try anything to help Ob.
“What is it that makes a person want to stay here on this earth anyway, and go on suffering the most awful pain just for the sake of getting to stay? I used to think it was because people fear death. But now I think it is because people can't bear saying goodbye.” – Missing May
This book is quirky enough to be entertaining and real enough to be meaningful. It talks about depression in a way that’s realistic but not too overwhelming for kids. Summer is confused by Ob’s drastic change in personality. She’s upset that her love isn’t enough to make him better. Eventually, she learns that Ob will always miss May, and he needs time to get better on his own. She can’t cure him by herself.
The story is set in a small town in West Virginia. Even though the book is tiny, the reader gets a good sense of the culture of Appalachia. The characters don’t have much money, and they’re used to being self-sufficient. Summer doesn’t have many people she can rely on to help her with Ob. She starts the story by trying to avoid her weird neighbor, Cletus, but by the end of the book, she learns that Cletus is exactly the friend she needs.
“We wanted a family so bad, all of us. And we just grabbed each another and made us one. Simple as that.” – Missing May
I actually think Missing May could have been longer. Ob snaps out of his depression quite suddenly at the end. That works well for the plot, but I don’t know how realistic it is.
If the book was longer, the reader could have learned more about Summer and Cletus. I feel like the reader knows more about the adult characters than the child characters. For a kids’ book, that’s weird. It might be a turn-off for some young readers.
Still, this is one of the better Newbery books I’ve read. Some of them are very disappointing.
TL;DR: The book could have benefited from being longer, but I still think it’s a good resource for kids whose caregivers are dealing with grief or depression.