Rise of the Jumbies
by Tracey Baptiste
Algonquin Young Readers, 2017
Middle Grade (8-12 and up)
Against the authentic backdrop of life on a Caribbean island, with its diverse population and brightly colored fishing boats; its thick mahogany forests and deep, clear waters filled with all kinds of beautiful things, some harmless… others more dangerous, Corinne deLaMere returns in a sequel that surpasses its predecessor! Baptiste is a talented writer. She catches us up on the backstory from the first book and lures us into the narrative, hooking us as surely as if she were a magical storyteller offering candy-like oranges.
Baptiste grew up in Trinidad, and this series is based on Caribbean folklore. While the first Jumbies book was influenced by the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree” this sequel explores the folk tale of Mama D’Leau, Mother of the Waters, who is a powerful water jumbie similar to a mermaid in many aspects… except for her tail. Rather than a mermaid’s fish-like body, Mama D’Leau’s tail is that of a giant snake!
My ten year-old daughter instantly recognized the story from the cover. When I started to read a snippet or two to get her interested, she realized “That sounds just like Suki and the Mermaid !” (by Robert Sans Souci). She had to begin reading Rise of the Jumbies that very night, and later declared, “I’m really into this book!”
When my daughter’s friends asked what a jumbie is, and all I could think of were the scary stories I grew up with filled with Obeah stereotypes and duppies hiding in the closet, I described jumbies as nature spirits, like Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro, (though maybe a little less trustworthy and more mischievous.) In fact, Baptiste opens a whole new chapter to the ol’ Monster Manual with creatures like douens, lagahoos, soucouyants… and mermaids.
When children start to disappear from Corrine’s island, she worries that her visions of Severine‘s return are true. The White Witch points her in the right direction: the sea. Corrine and her friends are sent by Mama D’Leau to the place of origin for the myth this story is based on, West Africa. If they can bring back her opal, she will help Corinne find the missing children. On the way, they encounter the dangers of the deep sea– giant squid, sharks… and some painful memories. The mermaids had once been chained, packed tightly together in a ship’s hold, back when they walked on two legs. The hulk sank, and so many of the others drowned. Was it Mama D’Leau who changed them from people to mermaids?
Once in Africa, carried swiftly by a magic current, the mermaids promptly forget about returning home– leaving Corinne, Dru, Malik, and Bouki on their own to find the opal using their own ingenuity. In Ghana, Mama D’Leau is called Mami Wata. The friends discover the opal is closely guarded by Ma Dessaly, the powerful matriarch of the family that Mami Wata had entrusted it to eight generations ago. Protected while other families were being split up by the slave trade, the opal became both a blessing and a curse to Ma Dessaly’s ancestors.
The children manage to return, but what’s to stop Mama D’Leau from reneging on her promise? She tries to steal Bouki and turn him to stone when he won’t hand over the opal! Could she be the same beneficent, loving being that the people in Ghana believe Mami Wata? And who has the children? Who is singing to them through the water, luring them away? Is it Severine… or Mama D’Leau herself?
Amid human/jumbie tension on the island, they all find a way to work together to defeat a fire started by angry and vengeful people. People who believe Corrine to be evil because of her relationship to the jumbies.
We see the return of Alan, lost in the first book to become a douen, and of the White Witch. We also meet a powerful new jumbie named Papa Bois. The story asks questions about whether Corinne should self-define as a jumbie or as a girl, and how it matters. Severine has returned, and wants her family. But in order to keep Severine from destroying the island, will Corinne choose to become a mermaid forever?
The book carries you through to the end, with one challenging adventure after another. Like my daughter says each and every night… “You can’t stop reading! It’s just getting good!” We found that it was a perfect match for our mighty-girls reading group!