[Book Review] The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

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A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.

Corinne La Mer isn't afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They're just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn't belong to a jumbie. Or could they?

When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne's house, cooking dinner for Corinne's father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine's plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn't know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.

With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale "The Magic Orange Tree," The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

I fell in love with Tracey Baptiste's MG novel, The Jumbies, the moment I saw the cover. Middle Grade covers are the pinnacle of appeal in the book world, as far as I'm concern; unlike YA's struggles with a million pretty dresses or adult fiction's tendency to just have drab covers in general, MG covers tend to be illustrated, gorgeous, and often the perfect fit for the story you'll find behind them. And the cover for The Jumbies is one of my favorites. (The cover for the sequel, though... that one actually blew even this one out of the water! Seriously, go check it out!)

As for the story itself, I'm a little less utterly devoted. I adore the concept, but when all was said and done, I wasn't entirely sure if I didn't feel the execution left a little bit to be desired. The Jumbies is a simplistically written book, which isn't exactly shocking for the Middle Grade demographic, but I couldn't help but wonder if the writing style missed its age mark a little bit; there were points when I felt I was reading a book more suited toward the "chapter book reader" demographic than the slightly older "middle grade reader" demographic. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the writing, though, is that I felt there was a wealth of imagery to be had that simply wasn't. The lore of the jumbies is just so fascinating, speaking as someone who had not even heard the term before stumbling across Baptiste's work, and so I did find myself a little bit lost when certain creatures were introduced with rather sparse details. I could've used a richer, more descriptive view of the world that Corrine La Mer lives in, because frankly, it sounds awesome. And I want to experience that awesomeness as wholly as I can!

All that said, I do have to admit that my favorite part of the book actually turned out to be the author's note at the end, which explained the various jumbies with far more clarity than the book itself. It also delved into the author's background for writing the book, which was uniquely fascinating and definitely grabbed my interest. I finished the book in absolute certainty that I would read more Jumbies books if and when they were published, and in the time since I read the book and finally got around to reviewing it (because dear god am I devoted to honing my procrastination abilities), Baptiste has released a sequel, Rise of the Jumbies. And I cannot wait to get my hands on it!

Even if I do think The Jumbies is a flawed work, I still think it's an awesome one. Based upon Haitian folklore and touting a gorgeous cover that fights against the under-representation of people of color in the children's section of the bookstore/library, it's a wonderful, culturally rich story that I absolutely loved reading! If you're looking for a new MG novel or series to check out, I highly recommend this one, especially if the young reader in your life is the kind of person who gets a kick out of folklore, mythology, and fairytale elements.

The Jumbies is a gem, guys, and you should definitely read it.

Like the sound of this book? You can purchase your very own copy of The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste here at Amazon.

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