Haitian folklore comes to life in this spooky story about jumbies, a brave girl and her friends, and oranges.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Algonquin Young Readers, 2016. 240 pages.
Reading Level: middle grades, ages 8-12
Recommended For: middle grades, ages 10 and up (and possibly younger; note cautions)
Corinne la Mer misses her mother although she has few memories of her; she died when Corinne was an infant. But a magnificent orange tree grows in Corinne’s yard, and sometimes Corinne feels her mother’s presence when she’s working with the orange tree. Her oranges are the best on the island: beautiful, delicious, and life-giving. One day, while Corinne is at the market selling her fine oranges, she notices a strange woman. This woman consults the village witch, later shows up at Corinne’s house, and is definitely up to no good. After Severin (the strange woman) puts a spell on Corinne’s father, Corinne knows she must do something to help, even if means heading into the forest where the jumbies are.
A spooky tale based on island folklore from Haiti and Trinidad, The Jumbies delivers a perfectly paced adventure that ends on just the right note. Well-developed, nuanced characters come to life as Corinne and her friends learn to trust one another in the midst of uncertainty. Consequences for actions and the power inherent growing things come together as Corinne embraces both her need for her friends and her own heritage, troubling though it may be. This will be a scary story for sensitive young readers, but those looking for a creepy story that’s not too creepy will enjoy its happy ending and a peek into another culture’s folklore. Themes resonate powerfully with the book of Proverbs such as a wanton woman weaving a spell over an unsuspecting man and strength in numbers (a cord of three strands is not quickly broken). Additionally, the natural world in the book, much like Creation, is life-giving, fruitful, and nourishing until it is taken over by the evil ones (sin). Then, it must be redeemed, but redemption is possible!
Cautions: Supernatural (the jumbies, a witch, magic), Violence (the jumbies and Severin wreak havoc in the village)
Overall Rating: 4
Worldview Rating: 4
Artistic Rating: 4