Review: Rise of the Jumbies

“Only when they had little air left did Mama D’Leau let the water spit them out on the sand, where they crawled, sputtering, feeling lucky – grateful even – to touch the gravelly earth beneath their fingers, until Mama D’Leau sent another wave to scoop them back into the water, where they struggled again.” p79

Rise of the Jumbies (Jumbies #2) by Tracey Baptiste.
Algonquin Young Readers, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2017.
MG fantasy, 266 pages.
Lexile: 690L .
AR Level: 4.5 (worth 7.0 points) .
NOTE: This will contain spoilers for the first book in the series.

Corinne LaMer might have defeated Severine, but things aren’t quite back to normal. If she wants to save the families of her island from a jumbie fate under the sea, she’ll have to work with powerful jumbies to restore the balance.

Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste.

Even though she fought against her aunt’s wicked plan in the last book, as soon as something goes wrong people instantly assume it’s Corinne’s fault. This does pick up pretty soon after the previous book, so her father, and their home island, are still reeling from everything that’s happened. With grace and a little help, Corinne manages to handle it pretty well, which is good because she’s going to need all the help she can get!

Baptiste continues to have good characterization, and a plot that is twisty but still logical. However, I do think I would have enjoyed this better if I’d taken a moment to reread The Jumbies first. We still have our copy and some of the kids have read it, but it’s been several years since I read it and some of the details had faded from my memory. Trying to read Rise of the Jumbies as a standalone would mean missing a lot.

I enjoyed this much more than the first book, which I’d already liked even though it was too dark for me personally. This book felt much more like a fantasy story to me, although it didn’t shy away from heavy topics. The jumbies felt more familiar now, and the darker aspects of the story were all rooted in historical evils, which for some reason bothers me less than fantasy. Mami Wata, Mama D’Leau, and the mermaids have such a deep story that it honestly felt like that could have been the main plot. Baptiste’s storylines are so good that even the side characters have continual development.

She also toes the fine line between middle grade and beyond well. This book delves deeply into topics of memory, identity, and redemption. Both historical topics like the Atlantic slave trade, and current topics like environmentalism and distribution of resources are handled well. Baptiste asks tough questions of her young readers and doesn’t provide easy answers.

For that reason I think this could fit in libraries for older students as a hi-lo text. But I wouldn’t generally recommend it for younger elementary, and it will only work as a read-aloud for groups that can handle the suspense and speculation. Over the course of her (often underwater) adventures, Corinne sees a sunken slave ship, spends time in one of Ghana’s famous slave castles (I assume Elmira but it isn’t specified), and meets both everyday Ghanaians and magical being who were once enslaved. Since this history is often left out of the textbooks, it’s incredibly validating to see it incorporated in other books which have a different focus.

Adults will want to be aware that this volume includes Mama D’Leau trying to trap a preteen boy to be one of her husbands, children drowning in a variety of contexts, realistic discussion of kidnapping and enslavement, memory loss and grief, attempted theft, lying, pickpocketing, and a heavier dose of peril and scary situations than most MG novels. In particular parents of sensitive readers and teachers or librarians in the USA should ensure that students have a good understanding of Ghana since this book touches on the historical slave trade from Ghana, but doesn’t cover that much of the present-day culture.

This is a strong installment in the Jumbies series. While it suffers slightly from the second-book issue of being reliant on the characterization of the first and needing to leave loose ends open for the third book to resolve, there are enough characters and events self-contained within this volume to make it a solid part of this series. Recommended.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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