Study Guide

Summer in Missing May

By Cynthia Rylant

Summer

Summer is a scrappy little girl, and our narrator to boot. She may be young, but she's definitely an old soul—probably because she's gone through so much in her short life. After all, she's orphaned and was shuttled from one unwilling relative to another while she was a kid.

Back in Ohio, where I'd been treated like a homework assignment somebody was always having to do [...] (1.12)

The kid sure is down on her luck, but she finally ends up with Aunt May and Uncle Ob, who are excellent and loving parents. They even offer to buy her anything she wants from the grocery store to help her feel at home, which basically means that Summer gets treated to all the junk food she wants. Dream come true, right? But even so, Summer doesn't take anything for granted.

Receiver of Love

Summer gets a whole lot of love from Uncle Ob and Aunt May, and even though she's been abandoned throughout her life, she still recognizes true, pure love when she sees it:

I stood there before those shelves, watching these wonders begin to spin as May turned on the fan overhead, and I felt like a magical little girl, a chosen little girl, like Alice who has fallen into Wonderland. This feeling has yet to leave me. (1.10)

Aunt May and Uncle Ob make Summer feel like she's special and safe with them. They give her everything that they can possibly give—they don't have selfish thoughts when it comes to their little girl. And it's this kind of love that Summer really needs. She doesn't need a nicer home or lots of toys after losing her parents and being passed around the family—what she needs is love, the kind that nourishes her soul and helps her grow up. With the overwhelming love and support that she receives from Aunt May and Uncle Ob, Summer can learn to love them back wholeheartedly, and to have faith and confidence in herself.

Fear of Abandonment

All the love she's received doesn't erase Summer's early life and the tough experience she had, though. Like little orphan Annie, Summer's had a rough go of it and knows that people can leave at any moment. She's learned that you can't take people for granted, and that you have to try to hang onto them with you've got.

That's why when Aunt May dies, Summer's thoughts immediately turn to Uncle Ob—she's afraid that she'll lose him too. Even when she goes over to Cletus's house, she can't keep this idea of mortality and loss out of her mind when she meets his elderly parents:

It made me think about the difference between Cletus and me. About the way he could trust things to be all right. The way I worried about losing everything. (8.47)

Summer is looking at Cletus's parents—people that she doesn't have a real connection to—and yet she's way more concerned about their health than Cletus is. She's already thinking about how Mr. Underwood should go to a chiropractor, and how they should both go in for more check-ups… Summer is used to the people closest to her disappearing, and so it makes sense that her automatic knee-jerk reaction is to try to protect people and keep them close. This is the same instinct that makes her so fiercely protective of Uncle Ob.

The Little Caretaker

On top of always hovering around Uncle Ob, Summer is also a little old lady in her own right. She acts a lot older than her age, and not just because she already drinks coffee on the regular:

Cletus says I think like a tired old woman. He says I'm going to turn into one of those green-eyed ladies at the Kmart checkout if I'm not careful. (3.31)

The reason that Summer seems old is because she has more responsibilities than other kids. She's pragmatic and doesn't think too much of her own dreams or wants—she just hopes to keep everything running smoothly. When Aunt May dies and Uncle Ob falls into depression, it's Summer's job to make sure that nothing falls apart—she has to walk herself to the bus stop, keep them both fed, and make sure that Uncle Ob wakes up every single morning. She basically becomes the main caretaker in their little household, even though she's way younger:

May had always made a big hot breakfast for me. Since she died, Ob had given me cereal and toast. Today, I was cooking for myself. (6.35)

Summer doesn't really get to act like a kid now that May's died. And perhaps that's why the trip to the capitol is so transformative for all of them—when they go on that trip, Uncle Ob finally starts acting like Summer's guardian and treating her like a kid again. In doing so, he makes her feel like she can still act and feel like a kid, even if times are hard right now.

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