I first picked up Missing May early 2000, I remember it to be a poignant and sad book. I picked it up again to re-read for our Newbery Medal Challenge this year and found myself feeling the exact same thing back when I first read it.
Missing May is by Cynthia Rylant, an American author who has written over a hundred children’s books. This is her first Newbery Medal, which she won in 1993. The novel is short and can be read in one sitting, with its effects equally felt as if reading a book for a long time.
The story begins with Summer, the narrator, telling us that May died, her adopted mother and wife to Ob. But the cycle of Loss, Grief and Finding Home begins a little earlier, even before May’s death. The cycle gives this novel its ground, the road map by which readers feel for their characters.
Summer lost her mother at a young age. An orphan, she was passed around from kin to kin as a form of obligation. She ate only what was given and never felt comfortable enough to ask for anything. She was lost and grieving and found home in May and Ob who took her as their own and raised her with all the love they have.
With May gone, Ob and Summer find themselves even more at a loss. The author takes us to a journey wherein we see them exist without really living, until, as Summer puts it a Wizard shows up in the form of a weird boy called Cletus:
“I did not stay lost for long. Guidance came to me in the form of a greasy-haired lunatic, and now, desperate, I am passing him the torch, hoping he can lead us out of this infernal darkness, this place none of us can anymore call home.”
We watch as these two people, young and old, deal with loss the best way they can. Each living a zombie-like existence holding on to the memory of May the only way they know how. Imagining her presence or recalling memories as they walk through her garden. I suppose we all do that when we’ve lost someone in our lives. When people die, we feel the blank space and it does feel like a part of our heart has been taken.
Missing May takes the reader through the journey of loss, finding one’s bearing and reason to live in the aftermath of death and bereavement. It’s a wonderful book to introduce grief and loss to younger readers. It doesn’t sugar coat, nor does it over dramatize. It speaks of a true-felt loss that resonates to most of us who may have gone through a similar experience.
Newbery Medal Challenge Update: 6 of 12