The protagonist, Summer, is a young girl who is adopted by her Aunt May and Uncle Ob, who live in a trailer in West Virginia. Although they don’t have much money, Summer finds a loving home for the first time in her life. When May dies, Ob is devastated and feels like he has nothing left to live for. One day he claims to have seen her ghost. To try to help Ob, Summer and Cletus (the weird kid at school) take him on a journey across the state to attempt to communicate with May’s spirit.
I liked the fact that Rylant portrays West Virginia as having its own unique culture without making fun of it or looking down on it. Rylant uses Cletus’ character to specifically challenge first impressions and judgment. At first, May thinks he’s quite strange and doesn’t like him, but as the book progresses she begins to see him as an actual person. Although the characters in the novel are poor, they come from loving families who distinguish themselves through art and creativity.
However, at the same time, I would warn that “Missing May” is not a happy or lighthearted book, as the entire plot deals with reconciling with May’s death. I think that as a children’s book, it serves an important role in teaching life lessons about grief, but I don’t particularly enjoy depressing stories.