Reviews: The Jumbies
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Young Readers, Expected Publication April 2015)
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that all fairy tales aren’t involving castles and sprites and dragons and such. The European fairy tales, like those of The Brothers Grimm and Andersen have become almost general knowledge in our society. We absorb them and know them and can tell you the salient points without effort. Glass slippers, high castle towers, poison apples, enchanted frogs. We know these images all too well. But stories exist in every corner of the world, the children in India, or China or Trinidad would have grown up with their own sorts of “fairy tales” that most of us don’t know so well. New landscapes and new mythologies to explore aren’t a bad idea. Readers can get so caught up in one set of tropes and story arcs that they forget there are other possibilities.
Over my years reading fantasy, I’ve only read a few stories that use Caribbean mythology to underpin their stories of magic and mysticism and monsters. None of those stories were written for a middle grade audience. Despite efforts over the years to diversify fantasy, a large number of stories still exist within traditional European pseudo-medieval settings, or urban fantasy set within Europe or North America. But Tracey Baptiste is about to take readers out of their comfort zone, and into the wild world of the islands.
Corinne La Mer lives with her fisherman father on the island in their cottage near the forest. She is a tough and fearless girl, swift of limb, connected to the land, undaunted by scorpions, bullies or tales of jumbies. After all, jumbies are just superstition and stories. They don’t really exist. Or so Corinne thinks until she runs deep into the dark forest . . . and something follows her back out. Corinne’s not quite sure what she saw, but the next day a strange and beautiful woman appears in the town market. Corinne is convinced that the woman, Severine is up to no good and her suspicion is confirmed when Severine bewitches her father. Severine is a jumbie, and she wants a family of her very own. If she can’t have that, she’ll send her jumbies after all the islanders and take the entire island as her own. Now it’s up to Corinne and her friends Malik, Bouki and Dru to save the island, and stop Severine. But time is running out!
The adventure and magic on its own are lots of fun, but what’s a real treat is that this book provides us with vivid characters who fit their landscape while being instantly identifiable for readers. Readers looking for a strong heroine will love Corinne. Her bravery, strength and struggle are at the heart of this tale. But it is her love and her willingness to accept who she is in the end that will really turn the tides. Malik and Bouki, the two homeless and orphaned brothers transform in the story, changing from one-dimensional bullies and troublemakers into boys that may become heroes despite themselves. And Dru, the girl who is afraid of so much finds her own strength and courage to face the dark.
And the island has it’s own place as a character in this work. The rich vegetation, bright flowers. The variety of creatures. The author makes us fall in love with this island in all it’s wonders and dangers. I loved the “orange magic” time of day that happens just at sunset. Corinne’s world is a brilliant and earthy one. It’s a setting that will take readers out of their ordinary lives and have them imagining somewhere else, some place warm and tropical and full of its own magic.
If you’re looking for a slightly spooky fantasy adventure that will transport you somewhere new–this is just the kind of book I’d recommend!
In the author’s notes at the back, Tracey Baptiste explains that she grew up reading European fairy tales that were nothing like those she heard on her island of Trinidad. She wanted to change that as a writer. Thus, in The Jumbies, Baptiste combines different elements of island mythology and stories, crafting her own original fantasy adventure with the bones of Trinidad lore. As the author mentions, The Jumbies owes some of it’s structure to a story called “The Magic Orange Tree” (though only a few of the elements are used) you can read a version of this tale here. The author also explains the legends behind some of the other jumbie monsters mentioned in the story, enough that interested readers can find out more information with a little research.
I admit, I’ve been excited about this book since I first saw the cover and read the teaser. But I was also anxious because I did not want the story to prove disappointing. Fortunately, there’s no disappointment to be had. Tracey Baptiste has delivered on her promise of a great Trinidad flavored fantasy for middle grade readers, and I can’t wait to have this one on the shelves!
Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Expected Publication Date: April 2015
Recommended for ages 9-14
Website for Tracey Baptiste: http://www.traceybaptiste.com/
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on March 11, 2015, in General Posts, Reviews and tagged Authors, Book Trailers, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, Diverse Books, fantasy, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Multicultural, Reading, reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.