Friday, April 20, 2018

Missing May

Missing May. Cynthia Rylant. 1992. Scholastic. 89 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.

Premise/plot: Missing May won the Newbery Medal in 1993. This novel for young readers explores grief. Summer and Ob are the central characters; they are the ones most 'missing' May. All the happiness Summer has known has been in the home of her aunt and uncle. May and Ob took her in and adopted her; times were good, love abounded. But May died in her garden, and life hasn't been the same since she's left.

Ob wants more than anything to make contact with May's spirit. Summer isn't sure that that is even possible, but she hopes it is for Ob's sake. Cletus is relatively new friend of the family. He's around Summer's age. But he has a way--a knack--with Ob that is healing and comforting. Together these three set out on a road trip. The destination? A spiritualist church that Cletus read about with a medium as a pastor. Will May reach out from beyond the grave with a message for Ob? for May?

My thoughts: Did I like it? No. Yes. No. Maybe. I'll start with what I did like. Rylant is a strong writer. She did a great job with the setting. It's set in West Virginia a place where she herself grew up. She captures a specific place--if not a specific time. Which brings me to her characterization. Her characters were human--there's a rawness to them, a take-me-like-I-am rawness. I think Cletus may just be my favorite among them. Her writing was GREAT.

Here is one of her descriptions of May:
She understood people and she let them be whatever way they needed to be. She had faith in every single person she ever met, and this never failed her, for nobody ever disappointed May. Seems people knew she saw the very best of them, and they'd turn that side to her to give her a better look. (15-16)
And one of Cletus:
Cletus had some gifts--I was learning this bit by bit--and knowing when to talk and when not to was turning out to be one of them. (37)
I can certainly see why it was honored with the Newbery award.

So what didn't I like? I didn't like the content, the story. Specifically, I did not like the ongoing quest to make contact with the dead--either through Cletus (that attempt failed) or through a professional medium (that one failed as well). In a way, it is thought-provoking. When someone you love dies--where is your hope? Is your hope in making contact with them again in the here and now? Is your hope in finding messages in feelings, signs, visions, dreams? Is your hope in mediums and psychics?

Or is your hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is your hope in heaven? That you will spend eternity with them in heaven because you both believed that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life--the only way to the Father? Is your comfort found in the Word of God? Can you find peace and comfort through the Spirit and the fellowship of believers?

Summer and Ob are both searching for peace and comfort. Specifically Summer wants Ob to come to a place of peace so that he will start living again. She fears that he has lost all the will to live. And if he's lost the will to live, then who will take care of her? who will love her?

As a Christian, I saw the lost-ness, the despair of Summer and Ob. Ob is in need of answers, in need of peace, in need of comfort. But he's seeking in the wrong places in the wrong ways. Summer is young and confused. She doesn't believe strongly--one way or the other--about the after life. I pitied them both. I'm not sure readers are supposed to pity them. I'm not sure readers are not supposed to pity them either.

Grief wears many faces. There isn't one right way to grieve. Each person is different. Christian or not--every person grieves in his or her unique way. And it's not like anyone--insider or outsider--can say a handful of phrases to 'snap someone out of their grief' to 'fix them' or 'heal them.' There are plenty of WRONG things to say that hurt instead of help. I think everyone could learn from Cletus--a bit--in just BEING there and listening. (But to be fair, Cletus is far from perfect, it is Cletus who suggests going to a professional medium.)

Would I have liked Missing May as a child? I probably would not have read it. a) I was still AVOIDING all books that had the potential for sadness. b) I was certainly reading in 1992/1993, but probably not books for this age group. c) I attended a Christian school with a small library budget and high standards of what was appropriate and inappropriate. I don't think a book with talk of mediums and contacting the dead would have made the cut. But I could be wrong. It DID win the Newbery. And I honestly can't say if the librarian was reading every book before it was ordered and placed within the collection.

Christian families shouldn't necessarily avoid the book at all costs. But if you do read it, you may want to read it together and use it as a discussion opportunity. As I said, it is thought-provoking.

© 2018 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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