Goodreads: The Jumbies
Series: Jumbies #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Corinne La Mer does not believe in jumbies–trickster spirits said to live in the forest near her home. But then one day she sees a pair of yellow eyes in the trees. And then a beautiful woman follows her from the marketplace and appears in her house, trying to win over her father. Corinne learns that the woman desires to take over the island and reclaim it for the jumbies. Can Corinne stop her before she loses everyone she loves?
Inspired by Caribbean folklore and the tale of “The Magic Orange Tree,” Tracey Baptiste’s The Jumbies offers supernatural thrills and chills to middle grade audience. Corinne La Mer does not believe in jumbies–malevolent spirits said to live in the forest–until the day one shows up in her house and puts a spell on her father. Now, she must unlock her own magic in order to save him, and the rest of the island, from being turned into jumbies forever. An original fantasy sure to delight–and scare–young readers.
Much of the joy of The Jumbies comes from watching Baptiste introduce a new audience to the tales of her own childhood. An author’s note at the end explains some of the stories of the jumbies, as well as the ways in which Baptiste adapted them to create a story of her own. These tales are not for the faint of heart! Creatures who carry their own coffins with them? Or lure children into the woods when they learn their names? Eek! Fortunately, Baptiste’s versions are slightly less terrifying. They, at least, seem able to be beaten, either with physical resistance or a bit of magic.
Though I enjoyed the concept behind the story, I have to admit that the pacing of it is a bit uneven, particularly at the start. Baptiste likes to jump around the perspectives of different characters and one of those happens to be the villain, the jumbie who calls herself Severine. By showing Severine’s movements and trying to get into her mind, Baptiste loses some of the suspense she might have been able to build. Readers know upfront that she is a jumbie, that she is bad news, and that she has a very specific plan regarding Corinne and her father. I think a stronger tale would have unfolded from Corinne’s point of view, leaving readers to piece together the mystery along with her.
And, strangely, even though readers get several chapters from Severine’s perspective, her motivations remain unclear–as do the motivations of all the jumbies. Jumbies are initially introduced as basically pure evil–they are bad creatures who lure in the unwary in order to harm them. Severine does seem pretty awful, but then she seesaws between wanting to…love? Corinne and her father and wanting to hurt them. Maybe Severine is just really confused, with competing and contradictory desires. But it makes for an unusual reading experience, with readers not knowing precisely if they are supposed to feel bad that Corinne fights Severine’s evil magic. Because, you know, the rejection hurts Severine’s feelings.
Ultimately, however, The Jumbies is a fun and spooky middle grade fantasy that will have readers rooting for Corinne and her friends to save the day. There are currently two sequels, but the book also works as a satisfying standalone.