Book Review: “The Jumbies” by Tracey Baptiste

My first book of 2021! One of my goals is to read as many books from my classroom library as I can before our eventual return to in-person school. I managed to read many last year, especially during Spring, Summer, and Winter Break. While this one wasn’t my favorite that I’ve read, it was a creative and imaginative story, and a fun start to the new year!

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Jumbies” is a middle grade novel based on the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree.” This was such a cute and magical story full of diverse characters and important themes. The characters, culture, and setting aren’t something you see a lot in children’s literature, so I really loved this diverse representation. I struggled a little with the writing style; the POV switches with almost every chapter and this felt a little cumbersome at times. I also found myself wishing for a little more variety in sentence structure, as it felt a little redundant at times. Overall, though, it’s a wonderful story featuring unique characters and important themes of love, family, and friendship.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“The Jumbies” by Tracey Baptiste
Jumbies (The Jumbies): Baptiste, Tracey: 9781616205928: Amazon.com: Books
  • Year of Publication: 2015
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Summary:

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.

Format: Paperback

Themes: Family is about more than blood. Love conquers all. True friends support you in your time of need. It’s okay to ask for help. We need to respect our land and its history.

Character Development: I really enjoyed the main character, Corinne, but some of the other minor characters were hit-or-miss in terms of their development. Some of my favorite characters were the brothers that Corinne befriends throughout the story; their dynamic was really interesting and their unique perspective brought a lot to the story. The villain, Severine, could have been fleshed out a little bit more though. Her goals and choices seemed a little bit one-dimensional. The most disappointing part, however, was the lack of development of Corinne’s father, Pierre. Their father-daughter relationship is really central to the story, but it feels like we’re just kind of expected to be invested in their relationship rather than actually shown why it’s so special.

Plot/Pacing: I thought the pacing of the novel was great. The chapters are short which makes it hard to put down, and the story moves at a pretty rapid pace (in a good way). I was entertained the whole way through!

Writing Style: I struggled a little bit with the writing style. On a technical level, I found many instances in which there were several sentences in a row that started in the same way. This felt really repetitive and actually took me out of the story as I was reading. Sentence structure variety isn’t something I want to notice while reading.

Another interesting aspect of the writing style is that the story is told from multiple perspectives. It’s primarily told from the perspectives of Corinne and Severine, but, especially towards the end, we also get to read from the perspectives of Corinne’s three friends. I didn’t mind the dual-perspectives, but towards the end the perspectives were switching with almost every chapter. This was a little jarring and distracting for me, and actually took me out of the action a little bit during the climax of the story.

“Bingeability”: Moderate

Emotional Investment: Moderate

Windows and Mirrors: Caribbean. Haiti. Loss of a mother. Colonization.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, I enjoyed this story. There were little things that I thought could have been executed better, but it was an entertaining and magical story! I’m excited to share this one with my students by keeping it in my classroom library, and I look forward to the sequels!

Recommendation: I recommend this book. There are many ways this could be used in a classroom! It would be a great novel study for a book club/literature circle. It would also be great paired with lessons about point of view and perspective, folktales (you could compare this with the original story it’s based on), symbolism, theme, and more.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Summary: 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.
Themes: Family. Love. Friendship. Asking for help. Respecting land and its history.
Character Development: Hit-or-miss. Weak for father-daughter relationship.
Plot/Pacing:
Quick pacing. Short chapters.
“Bingeability”:
Moderate.
Emotional Investment:
Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors:
Caribbean. Haiti. Loss of a mother. Colonization.
Overall Thoughts:
Some minor issues with execution, but a worthwhile story!
Recommendation: Yes
Rating:
3.5 out of 5 stars

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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