Missing May

Book: Missing May
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Publisher: Scholastic Paperbacks, reprinted in 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0756945916
ISBN-10: 0756945917
ISBN-13: 978-0439613835
ISBN-10: 0439613833
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: For ages 10-11 and up, but I would say 13 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Rylant, Cynthia. Missing May (published in 1992 by Orchard Books, a division of Franklin Watts Inc., New York City, NY 10016; republished in 1993 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc., 12540 Broadway, New York City, NY 10036). As I would see the title of this book on lists of award winners, I always guessed that it was probably about a little girl named May who went missing. Boy, was I wrong! When twelve-year-old Summer was six, her mother died, and after being passed from house to house by her mother’s brothers and sisters in Ohio, she came to live with her Aunt May and Uncle Ob in a rusty old trailer at Deep Water in Fayette County, WV. Now Aunt May has died while out working in her garden, and both Summer and Uncle Ob miss her terribly. Then one day Ob claims that May has sent him a sign from the spirit world, but when he fails to hear any more, he seems to be losing the will to go on living, and Summer just doesn’t know what to do about it because she’s feeling sad and forlorn herself.

However, their neighbor and Summer’s odd seventh-grade classmate Cletus Underwood, who has collected a suitcase full of newspaper clippings, has a suggestion on how Uncle Ob, whom he has befriended, can find some comfort. What is it? Will it work? And what will happen to Ob? This book, which won the Newbery Medal in 1993, probably because someone thought that it was a good book to explain death and how kids deal with it, is a strange story. Certainly, mourning over the loss of a loved one is something that we’ve all felt. Of course, Christians learn to handle such situations by turning to the “…God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations…” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). While there are a few Biblical references scattered here and there, it is plain that Aunt May and Uncle Ob are not very religious. So where do Cletus, Summer, and Ob turn to find help? They set off in search of the Reverend Miriam B. Young, Small Medium at Large and “pastor” of The Spiritualist Church of Glen Meadows, who claims to communicate with the dead. For Bible believers, the theology behind this book is just plain poor.

I realize that various people grieve differently and seek comfort in their own way, and in the end things seem to turn out all right in the book, but many parents will likely be concerned about the themes of “spiritualism,” seeking answers with mediums, and communicating with the dead. As others have noted, if people do not wish their children to be exposed to these issues in a positive light or would prefer to discuss them with their children in view of their own values, they would not have a clue about the content from the book summary. As to language, in addition to several common euphemisms (blamed, holy crap, heck, bejeezus, and even “swear to God” as an interjection), both Ob and Summer use the “h” word, Ob uses the “d” word, and after using “a few choice swear words” he once said that cussing was like taking a strong drink of whiskey because both thawed him out and got his engine running again. In And the Winner Is…A Guide to Newbery Medal Winners from a Christian Perspective, Barb Brandeis and Deb Ekstrand, wrote, “Uses bad language. If this is the best literature of the year, 1992 was a BAD year.” I don’t really recommend Missing May.

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