The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

the jumbies by tracey baptiste The Jumbies by Tracey BaptisteBuy The Jumbies
Special price $15.42 Regular price: $15.53
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Reviewer: Melissa on July 20, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Nothing scares Corinne La Mer. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. She knows that jumbies are just tricksters that parents in her island community make up to frighten their children. In Tracey Baptiste’s spine-tingling tale, Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest and gets lost in the process. She’s sure that the yellow eyes that seemed to follow her to the edge of the trees couldn’t have belonged to a jumbie. But what if they were? In The Jumbies, Corinne sees a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market, she knows something unexpected will happen. When Severine, the same stranger, shows up at her and her father’s home, Corinne is sure that danger is around the corner. However, bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in the plan that Severine has concocted. To save her island home, Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn how to use the ancient magic that she never knew she possessed.

Up till now, I haven’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, as readers of YABookShelf know. However, every time that I pick up one of these books, I fall in love, and my experience reading The Jumbies was not an exception to the rule. I grew up reading and loving European fairytales, just like the author Tracey Baptiste. However, her experience of Western fairytales was supplemented by hearing the oral folktales about jumbies during her childhood in Trinidad. With The Jumbies, Baptiste offers an original, fairytale-like twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree” with a brave female protagonist and lyrical prose that both young people and adult readers of MG literature will love, especially if they like their fairytales with a creepy atmosphere. And in the diverse case of characters, which is reflected in the beautifully creepy cover designed by Vivienne To, and it’s clear that this book’s time has come.

As an adult reader of this book, The Jumbies wasn’t scary enough to keep me up at night. However, having been a child who sought out creepy stories and novels from a young age, I know that this would have also been one of my favorites because Baptiste has a clear understanding of and ability to deliver a creepy atmosphere at the drop of a hat. For example, when Corinne runs into the forbidden forest to retrieve the necklace her mother gave her before she died from the agouti, she doesn’t have a worry in the world. She doesn’t notice how far into the woods they’ve gone, so it isn’t until she has secured the necklace that she realizes what has changed. In that moment, the creepy surroundings come into focus for Corinne and the reader, and we suddenly find ourselves no longer in the safe surroundings that the characters had come to expect. At various other moments in the novel, Baptiste masterfully removes the veil to show that the terrifying world Dru, Malik, and Bouki believed in, but Corinne didn’t, is – in fact – their reality.

Beyond the creepy surroundings, The Jumbies is jam-packed with Caribbean mythology and superstitions that come to life through Baptiste’s writing. Since Corinne doesn’t believe in these myths, until she is forced to do so, most of the knowledge that the reader gets about these creatures – at least at first – is through her new friend from the market, Dru, who tells Corinne about what several types of jumbies can do and what they look like. Unlike Corinne who has been raised to question the veracity of these stories, Dru seems terrified of them and most of the other things on the island whether she’s hiding behind her mother’s sari or trying to stay as far away as possible from anyone she thinks of as dangerous. To save the island and all of their friends and family, Corinne will not only have to become friends with Dru and brothers Malik and Bouki, but also admit that she needs their help, and convince them to join her despite the dangers. Once they come face to face with the various types of jumbies on the island, even readers will begin to believe in them from the fabulous descriptions that Baptiste gives us.

While Corinne is the main character, the story is told from the third-person perspectives of Corinne’s friends, one of the jumbies, and, to a lesser extent, the town witch. This authorial decision means that readers will get information when they need it, even if it’s before other important characters in the story know what’s happening. Moreover, Baptiste varies the chapter lengths, such as when the climax of the novel is approaching, to increase the tension of the story and to denote that the events in various chapters are happening simultaneously. Finally, she uses alliteration throughout the book and rhyming song lyrics at key points, which speak to her facility with literary devices and personally, made me try to guess at what the melodies were, so I could sing along while reading.

While The Jumbies may not appeal to all 8-12 year old readers, especially those who get scared easily, Tracey Baptiste has created a winning story and world unlike any I’ve ever read before, which is perfect for those who love ghost stories, are a creepy-loving young person at heart, or who enjoyed Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu.

Buy The Jumbies today and benefit from 11¢ off the regular price!

  5 comments for “The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

  1. July 20, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Well, first of all, I love the title and the cover made me want to jump right in for an adventure. The kids in my family will love this and I’ll love reading it with them.

  2. July 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Thanks for the comment, C. Lee! I agree with you – the cover totally caught my attention, too. It’s the reason that I stopped to check out what it was about and then requested it for review. So glad I did, and I’m sure that you and the kids in your family will enjoy the reading time together. :)

  3. August 9, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    I wasn’t super scared by this one either—though I might have liked it a lot more when I was a preteen. I did love that the author was offering an alternative to European fairytales with this, though!

  4. August 10, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    Exactly – I don’t mind not being super scared by it. In fact, I’d be surprised if I’d been really scared by a book meant for middle grade readers because if it scares me – someone who loves horror fiction of all kinds – than it must be absolutely terrifying to young people. How would they sleep at night?!? I did really love seeing a diverse fairytale world though with diverse characters, who weren’t whitewashed on the cover. So much to love.

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