Critical Context

Cynthia Rylant has earned a coveted place in juvenile and young adult literature by fearlessly tackling difficult topics and by adding to her readers’ knowledge of Appalachia. It is easy to feel Rylant’s love of her childhood home in her Caldecott Honor Books When I Was Young in the Mountains (1982) and The Relatives Came (1985), but it is particularly in her young adult novels such as Missing May, A Fine White Dust (1986), and A Blue-Eyed Daisy (1985) that the Appalachian setting adds dimension to the problems of her central characters. Although the ordinary people featured in Rylant’s novels may not perform heroic deeds, readers can relate readily to the everyday heroism that they show in facing life’s difficulties tranquilly and accepting as right one’s natural place in the world. Her young protagonists encounter problems that keep the adolescent reader riveted: the death of a loved one, a parent’s alcoholism, hero-worship and an intense religious experience, the decision of a teenager’s mother to have a baby whose father’s identity she will not share. Wondering how the problem will be resolved keeps readers enthralled, but learning that each person has a valuable place in the world provides the real satisfaction.

Rylant has written dozens of children’s and young adult works, including picture books, poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and works for beginning readers. In the Newbery Medal-winning Missing May, she continues the first-person narration, clear, simple writing style, and natural language that made her earlier Newbery Honor Book, A Fine White Dust, vivid and compelling.