June 30, 2015


This book is one off-the-beaten-track for me. It's definitely a MG chapter book, and skews quite a bit younger than the books we usually review here -- but I'm reviewing it anyway, because I'm excited that I'll have the opportunity to meet the author this fall. Tracey Baptiste is one of our keynote speakers for KidLitCon 2015, which will be held October 9 & 10 at the Hyatt Place Harbor East in Baltimore, Maryland.

I wanted to read this book, too, because I'd not consciously heard of Jumbies... but for some reason, the word set off an echo that said... "haints." Now, a haint is... one of those things my grandfather and great-grandfather were not supposed to tell me about -- my mother protested vociferously about the stories of things that went bump in the night. Honestly, because I was a completely gullible child (bwa-hahahaha! "Was," she says), it was probably better that I didn't hear too many of these stories, but I did hear of them -- and they still fascinate me in every culture. Tracey Baptiste's tale of the Caribbean boogey...people is cool because it has some surprising twists that are unexpectedly deep -- the story ends up being about people taking what doesn't belong to them -- including land -- and it ends with figuring out what you can live with, and what deserves a compromise. And, it has really good oranges...

Summary: Eleven-year-old Corinne La Mer and her father, Pierre, have everything they need in their Caribbean home. Each other -- the sunshine, the sea, the sweet smell of oranges, and Corinne's mother, Nicole's grave nearby. They are happy, and Corinne is brave -- she's not superstitious and jumpy about the mahogany woods next to the house. Everyone says that there are jumbies there -- haunts and haints - but she doesn't let that worry her. Her father has told her that people who believe everything they hear are the only ones who believe in that nonsense. Unfortunately jumbies might be real -- Corinne has seen a pair of bright yellow eyes in the woods, where she's not really supposed to go. Those eyes might have followed her out -- because suddenly there's a new woman in town, a woman who seems to be dead set on being the one-more-thing Corinne's father needs. Corinne isn't in the market for another mother -- and she wants that woman gone. But, as it turns out, that's not going to happen without a lot of faith, a lot of hard work, and banding together with friends she never knew she needed. And in the end, Corinne discovers that the things she thought she needed won't ever be quite as simple as they were before.

Peaks: I love the originality of this novel. There are new animals, new descriptions and new-things-per-page which will enchant a fairytale reader. I like that people are described as sun-baked, wearing saris, with long braids and locks. I was intrigued by the animals and foods I didn't recognize - and there isn't any glossary, so readers will launch into the web and discover images and other links to what is found in one imaginary story - which is always cool, when a fairytale reaches into real life.

As Betsy noted in her review, there is diversity in this village - the author is from Trinidad, so we assume Corinne's island is a like Trinidad where live people of Indo-Caribbean and Afro-Caribbean ancestry as well. It's a nice reminder that monocultures are very nearly non-existent.

I love that there is a discussion of "us" vs. "them" in this novel, and the idea of appropriation and theft and what is owed to the land and who came before us. Though those ideas aren't entirely explored in this short book, I think that these thoughts will plant some seeds and make great jumping-off points for conversations.

Valleys: Some of the things brought up in the novel deserved, I felt, more exploration. This is a tiny valley, but I wondered if this book was in a strange way about accepting new people into a parent's life. If Corinne had accepted that someone wanted her father and her to be her new family, would everything have gone differently? Is the near-destruction of the village really Corinne's fault, because she was house-proud and went to war over the kitchen, and didn't immediately accept someone who was trying to be a substitute mother for her? While I'm sure that isn't the author's intent, it could be read that way.

Those lost in this novel - jumbies and villagers alike - don't come back after their war. It's typical for old school fairy tales - Cinderella's stepsisters' hacked up feet don't regenerate - but for a modern fairytale, it's a little alarming. The village never seems to mourn for those who are lost, except for Dru -- and when she resists the "happily ever after" ending, she's told it's just one of the facts of life, and "hey, look, something good came out of this, at least." That seemed to shift the burden of the jumbies' actions away from themselves and onto their ringleader -- which was kind of a conflicting message to me, since a lot of what the villagers had to learn, in the aftermath of the war, was how to live with the actions that they'd taken and the choices they'd made which had caused the problems in the first place. On the other hand, it may be that I'm reading way too much into a chapter book! I think kids - and adults - who feel a little uneasy about the ending may have some thoughtful conversations about how they would have ended things.

Conclusion: A fast-paced, colorful Caribbean fairytale, this culturally expansive book for boys and girls is only a little spooky and perfect for some tiny chills. Frankly, I found myself trying to imagine and draw the jumbies instead of fearing them (backwards feet? One cow hoof?), which is just the right amount of horror/spook for younger middle graders.

Don't forget: If you're a blogger and want to have a great weekend meeting like-minded librarians, parents and other bloggers who read and discuss children's and young adult lit, c'mon out to Baltimore for KidLitCon this next October and hear the author speak in person! You'll be glad you did.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of Sheila Ruth, KidLitCon 2015 co-organizer. You can find THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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