Missing May
Missing May

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Series: Yearling Newbery   

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Annotation: After the death of the beloved aunt who has raised her, twelve-year-old Summer and her uncle Ob leave their West Virginia trailer in search of the strength to go on living.
Catalog Number: #198486
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Copyright Date: 1992
Edition Date: 2003
Pages: 89 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-439-61383-3 Perma-Bound: 0-7804-8554-8
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-439-61383-5 Perma-Bound: 978-0-7804-8554-9
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 91023303
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Orphaned at six, raised by an elderly West Virginia aunt and uncle with more devotion than money, Summer is twelve years old when Aunt May dies. Summer's grief is profound, but Uncle Ob seems unable to go on living without his beloved companion. The final scene is a triumphant catharsis as they find consolation in their memories and in each other. A haunting first-person narrative.
Kirkus Reviews
A gifted writer returns to one of her favorite themes—love- -in this case, as it can inform and transform grief. After her mother's death, Summer was handed from one unwilling relative to another, ``treated like a homework assignment somebody was always having to do.'' At six, she was taken in by an elderly uncle and aunt. Ob had a game leg (WW II) and enjoyed creating unusual whirligigs; May liked gardening behind their West Virginia trailer. They loved each other with a deep and abiding love, wholeheartedly including Summer. Now, six years later, May has died. In a poetic, ruminative narrative, Summer recounts Ob's mounting depression, his growing conviction that May is still present, and their expedition to find ``Miriam B. Conklin: Small Medium at Large.'' Meanwhile, they've been befriended by Cletus, an odd, bright boy in Summer's class; she doesn't especially value his company, but is intrigued by his vocabulary (``surreal''; ``Renaissance Man'') and his offhand characterization of her as a writer. The quest seems to fail- -Reverend Conklin has died—but on the way home Ob finally puts aside his grief to take the two young people to the state capitol as promised: ``Right out of the blue, he wanted to live again.'' Rylant reveals a great deal about her four characters, deftly dropping telling details from the past into her quiet story—including a glimpse of Summer, as seen by a girl in her class, ``like some sad welfare case,'' a description the reader who has read her thoughts will know to be gloriously untrue. A beautifully written, life-affirming book. (Fiction. 11+)"
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-- They've been a family for half of Summer's 12 years, and when her Aunt May dies, a little bit of Summer and her uncle Ob dies too--and his whirligigs go ``still as night.'' Ob's 'gigs are his ``mysteries,'' works of art that capture the essence of Storms, Heaven, Fire, Love, Dreams . . . and May. For a time, he seems to be failing, and Summer fears she'll lose him, as well. Then he claims to have been visited by May's spirit. And, stranger still to Summer, he takes a liking to that ``flat out lunatic,'' Cletus Underwood. Lunatic or no, Cletus steps unhesitatingly into the space May has left, and all three take off on a journey in search of May. It's an ill - fated journey that, nevertheless, lets Ob and Summer turn a corner in their grieving--and sets Ob free. With homely detail, Rylant plunges readers into the middle of Summer's world, creating characters certain to live long in their memories. Her tightly woven plot wastes no words; May's death and the course of her husband and niece's grieving are both reflected in and illuminated by the state of Ob's mysteries and the course of that interrupted journey of discovery. There is much to ponder here, from the meaning of life and death to the power of love. That it all succeeds is a tribute to a fine writer who brings to the task a natural grace of language, an earthly sense of humor, and a well-grounded sense of the spiritual. --Marcia Hupp, Mamaroneck Pub. Lib., NY
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Death is no stranger to children's literature. The picture-book set learns that birds and pets can die, while myriad titles for older children show what it means to lose a parent or a friend. The best books about death, however, don't just make readers weep; they offer insights into the human condition at the very moment when the terror of being human is at its most profound. They ask the niggling questions, the ones that stay awake with you in the middle of the night. Why, for instance, with all life's troubles, do people choose to go on?Some don't, of course, and 12-year-old Summer, in Cynthia Rylant's Missing May, is worried that her Uncle Ob may be one of those whose fingers are slipping off the precipice. Summer's never seen anyone love each other as much as Ob and his wife, May. That love spilled over onto her when Ob and May came from West Virginia, saw that the relatives in Ohio didn't really want or need a little girl whose mother had died, and decided that, despite their age and their rusty old trailer of a home, they had everything they needed to make a little girl happy. And they did.May dies in the garden that she loved, and after the funeral, Ob goes out to the old car parked by the dog house and sits there. Eventually, he lugs his body back inside, but his heart's with May. As Summer puts it, since her death Ob has not done much but miss May and hurt.Then, one day, Ob senses May's presence. When Summer asks exactly what it feels like, Ob replies, She felt like she did when we was packing up to go to Ohio . . . half of May would want to go and half of her would want to stay here. Couldn't make up her blame mind. The sensation of being with May is enough to rev Ob up again. Perhaps he can get in touch with May's spirit, find someone who can reach out to her. I need me an interpreter.The first choice is Summer's sort-of friend, Cletus. Collector extraordinaire, Cletus, whose hobby is making up stories about the photos he cuts out of magazines, once had a near-death experience. Summer's not too fond of the embarrassment that is Cletus, but she's willing to be nice to the after-life antennae for Ob's sake. Though Cletus can't make contact, the trio's attempted visitation in the garden performs another function for Ob and Summer. Ob finally drained his cup of praises to May, and the two of them grieve properly.Now, Ob really does feel like it's over. Summer tries to hide from her eyes the sight of Ob's life force dissolving. Then comes another reprieve: Ob hears of Reverend Miriam Young, a spiritualist who can communicate with the dead. With great anticipation, Ob, Summer, and Cletus plan a trip, deciding to make an adventure of it. First, they will hear all the news from May; then, they will visit Charleston and see the capitol--a special treat for Cletus, who's never been anywhere except the middle part of Raleigh County and the middle part of Fayette County. Hard to be a Renaissance Man when you can't get your nose any further than that.It's during this trip that Rylant shows her true mettle as a writer. Right along with Ob, the reader has been hoping--make that expecting -that Reverend Young will put everything right. But the reverend is recently deceased. In a small way, the reader's disappointment mirrors Ob's greater despair. Do we really want to go with this story? This isn't the way it was supposed to turn out, and, like Ob, we can't bear the consequences.But, of course, we do continue. One reason is the sheer pleasure of Rylant's writing. The weight of her subject matter is wrapped in the lightness of her style. Death, pain, and grief are the topics at hand, but they're written about with humor, grit, and love. Rylant makes us aware of the possibilities of life, even in the midst of tragedy. There is a freshness here that feels like a cool breeze.Then there is Rylant's eclectic cast of characters. Arthritic old Ob, who makes whirligigs that represent storms and lightning--metaphors for all the emotions he can't articulate. You don't meet people like him every day. Nor like Cletus, who's a storyteller even though his stories only concern the people in his photo collection. Nor like Summer, despairing because she knows what love is and can't stand losing it to the caprice of life.We're in with these people too deep to put the story down. We just can't make ourselves leave them. In the end, when Ob makes a remarkable turnaround--literally, as he decides not to go home and die, but to take the children to the capitol anyway--Summer thinks she knows why: Because he couldn't bear to say goodbye to me.That is Rylant's stalwart message: people count, and what makes all this life business worthwhile is the caring. It can be painful. It can bruise. There's not even the guarantee that the story will turn out the way it should. But perhaps the reason more people don't let go is because someone they love is holding on tight. (Reviewed Feb. 15, 1992)
Word Count: 17,509
Reading Level: 5.3
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.3 / points: 3.0 / quiz: 6673 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:6.7 / points:5.0 / quiz:Q07724
Lexile: 980L
Guided Reading Level: W
Fountas & Pinnell: W

This critically acclaimed winner of the Newbery Medal joins the Scholastic Gold line, which features award-winning and beloved novels. Includes exclusive bonus content.

Ever since May, Summer's aunt and good-as-a-mother for the past six years, died in the garden among her pole beans and carrots, life for Summer and her Uncle Ob has been as bleak as winter. Ob doesn't want to create his beautiful whirligigs anymore, and he and Summer have slipped into a sadness that they can't shake off. They need May in whatever form they can have her -- a message, a whisper, a sign that will tell them what to do next. When that sign comes, Summer with discover that she and Ob can keep missing May but still go on with their lives.

A beloved classic about grief, gardens, and the enduring love of family.

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