Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

As Missing May opens, twelve-year-old Summer recounts the events leading to her adoption by Aunt May and Uncle Ob: the death of her mother and being passed from house to house among her relatives in Ohio. Summer feels unwanted, “caged and begging,” until May and Ob visit from West Virginia when Summer is six years old and recognize her yearning to be loved. They return with her to their rundown trailer deep in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, where Summer realizes that she has come home. Although they are poor, May and Ob give Summer what she needs most: love, comfort, and acceptance.

May dies suddenly in her garden, however, when Summer is twelve, and, although Ob continues to love and care for Summer, both are lost without May. Six months later, Ob suddenly “feels” May’s spirit still hovering near them. Desperately wanting to speak once more with May, Ob calls on Cletus Underwood, Summer’s classmate. Because Cletus almost drowned when he was seven, Ob believes that he has a special connection to the spirit world and is a conduit through which May can contact them. When they are unable to communicate with May, Ob quickly falls into a deep depression, for the first time not waking on time to get Summer off to school. He confesses to Summer that he doubts he can continue to go on without May.

Cletus provides an unexpected pathway to salvation for all of them through his collection of pictures. He brings Ob a...

(The entire section is 563 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

West Virginia serves as the setting for most of what happens in Missing May. The old trailer home serves as a symbol of contrasts. It...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

By now it is almost a cliche to note Rylant's simple, elegantly straightforward style. Another cliche is the rationale Rylant provides for...

(The entire section is 376 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Death can be a touchy subject for many people, particularly for young people, yet it is a subject that frequently appears in modern-day...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. How important is May's personality to the events in Missing May?

2. What does Missing May tell you about West...

(The entire section is 237 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Make a map of the route taken by Summer and the others to and from the home of the medium.

2. Describe the capitol building...

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Rylant's writings for young adults tend to emphasize characterization, much as she does in Missing May. In A Kindness, love and...

(The entire section is 134 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Hearne, Betsy. Review. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 45 (March 1992): 192. Hearne says about Missing May, "Strong...

(The entire section is 151 words.)