Study Guide

Cletus Underwood in Missing May

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Cletus Underwood

A Professional Daydreamer

When Summer first encounters Cletus Underwood, she's convinced that he's bad news:

I'd been riding the school bus with Cletus for a year, since his family moved up from Raleigh County, and I had decided he was insane. (3.2)

Cletus seems like the kind of middle school student who's destined to be mocked and shunned—that he carries around this old suitcase and collects things like potato chip bags and old photos doesn't help much. He likes hanging out with Uncle Ob because he's more comfortable with older folks, and Uncle Ob is willing to listen to all of his nonsense about the stories behind old pictures.

Summer just thinks that Cletus is odd, but she comes to learn that behind all the weird stuff he's got some big dreams. Cletus dabbles in everything because he wants to be a Renaissance man, and he longs to see more of the world than is available to him. Summer comes to see that he does all of these odd things because he needs to fill his life up with as much knowledge and experience as he can, and Deep Water—where they live—just doesn't offer all that much.

Confidently Odd

But even though Cletus may be the token weird kid at school, this fact doesn't seem to bother him. He's happy to carry on and do the things that bring him happiness, even if it means that everyone else looks at him funny. And when Summer goes over to his house for the first time, she realizes why:

And I knew in an instant that this was not the same boy who had been coming to us with his battered old suitcase all these weeks. This was a different boy, and I knew, even before I set one foot inside his house, that here in this place, he was a much-loved boy. (8.13)

Cletus doesn't need to impress or prove himself to anyone else—he's been brought up with completely loving parents, and that's all that matters. Even if people act like he's odd while he's at school, he can come home and be fully accepted for who he is. And that's a trait that he shares with Summer, who may just look like a poor girl at school but knows that she's the luckiest girl in the world when she comes back to her love-filled home each day.

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