The major subject of Missing May is the death of a loved one and its impact on the survivors—their struggle to come to grips with the loss and to deal with their feelings of hopelessness so that they can find new meaning in life. Still torn by the recent loss of her beloved Aunt May, twelve-year-old Summer is desperately afraid that she will now lose her adored Uncle Ob, who continues to pine for May and is slowly losing interest in living. It is only when both Ob and Summer realize that neither can take May’s place for the other that they can begin to rebuild their lives without her. Throughout the novel, one sees people handling the deaths of loved ones: the death of Summer’s young mother, the death of May’s parents when May was only a child, and May’s untimely death.

Cynthia Rylant subtly interweaves into the plot reflections on the importance of family and friendship in an individual’s development. Although she lives with relatives, Summer has no real family until May and Ob take her in and surround her with their love. She never realizes that they are poor because of the richness of their life together. It is out of May and Ob’s deep desire for a child of their own that they recognize Summer’s need and decide to share their life with her. After May’s death, Ob and Summer keep their family intact by trying to provide for each other as May once did for them.

Even though Summer realizes that the love and support of...

(The entire section is 500 words.)