Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

Eleven-year-old Corinne La Mer lives on an island in the Caribbean with her father and is not afraid of anything. When she chases an agouti into the forest and sees yellow eyes peering at her, she rationalizes what she saw; whereas, anyone else would have said it was a Jumbie. When she spots two boys torturing a frog, she surprises them with scorpions that she has no problem holding in her bare hands. She's faster than most kids her age and adores her father. Corinne's mother died when she was four and Corinne sells the sweetest tasting oranges from their yard at the market while her father fishes during the day. It helps that their garden is closest to the forest and has the richest soil to grow vegetables. The family of two is comfortable and happy until the woman, Severine, comes into their life. Corinne is threatened by the loss of not only her father, but discovers she is of mixed heritage and that her village is being threatened by Jumbies in the forest, ancient magical beings that were on the island long before humans colonized the place. This Caribbean folktale twist is a quick read where the action snowballs into an exciting climax.

Corinne catches two orphan boys torturing animals when she decides to give them a taste of their own mischief. She rescues the frog that has more human characteristics than normal and replaces it with scorpions. An unlikely friendship ensues that shows these two brothers are resourceful and loyal to Corinne's plight when things go wrong. Corinne also makes friends with Dru, an Indian girl, that comes from a large family and is afraid of many things. Dru learns about bravery in more ways than one. She must choose between being Corinne's friend when she finds out she is of mixed heritage or be afraid of her like some others in the village.

The message of intolerance and whether colonization makes it right to take land is good for discussions. The witch asks Corinne hard questions when the Jumbies attack the humans. She is able to see both sides and does not choose one over the other, except when murder is involved. The Jumbies are controlled by Severine, the Earth mother. I wanted more of a mythological explanation of Severine's role. Why could she control the creatures in the forest? Corinne's mother used love to power the amulet, but where did Severine's power come from? If she could draw power from the earth like Corinne could make nature listen to her voice, then was Corinne's orange tree like the tree of life?

The boys torture animals and then become brave rescuers that are loyal to Corinne. Their transformation was too sudden for me to buy but they moved the plot forward as needed.  Dru is afraid of Corinne but changes her mind. I was not sure why. People are afraid of Corinne. The author shows at the end that not everyone is happy with her and that some blame her for the deaths of their family members. The resolution of this is not complete and made me wonder if the author is thinking of doing a sequel.

This fantasy is unique in that its roots are in Caribbean folk lore, but I wanted more explanation of its mythological roots. I don't know anything about it and I have more questions than answers. The fantasy or fairy tale has typical conventions with the hero's journey and quest to save the world. The witch is somewhat of a mentor and the other children help Corinne as she saves the world. While some good messages on tolerance, bucking social norms, and colonization are touched on they are not explored in depth. An interesting book but not one that will stick in my memory.

3 Smileys

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