I have two kinds of experiences reading middle grade novels: either I'm reading them to my son, who's seven, or I'm reading them for my own pleasure. Tracey Baptiste's The Jumbies is a book that I read recently for my own pleasure, but that I really hope to either read to my son eventually, or at least give him to read for himself.
He's not ready for it yet, though. As Mrs N at Between These Pages points out, this is a good book for a target reading level of third or fourth grade or higher. While I do think the vocabulary (especially the introduction of new words, which I know still confuse my first-grader), I think part of that is that this is, believe it or not, a perfectly targeted children's horror story.
Because it is a horror story. The appealing woman who is slowly transformed into something grotesque reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. The forest full of jumbies--a collection of supernatural creatures of all shapes and sizes and sorts--is eerie, and the specific creatures are quite terrifying. I don't think Adam would have been able to sleep after I read him this.
There was so much I liked about this story, especially the first half. I love Corinne's confidence and independence, and her loving, trusting relationship with her father. I love the friendships that are modeled here--with Dru and Bouki and Malik, how they all have flaws and they really annoy each other sometimes, but that doesn't mean they don't stick together. I love how Dru's big family takes care of her, and Bouki and Malik stick together with no one else, and how many different ways there are to be a family here.
Really, I just love the setup of the island--the market, the forest, the fishing boats; the legends, the villages, the witch. The first half of the book, where you meet everyone and everything, was by far my favorite.
The second half was good, too, but it didn't appeal to me quite as much. The second half was where the action happens--the figuring out and the battles and the stakes. I think all of this would have worked great for a kid of the appropriate age, but I am not that. The big build up, the grand showdown, the pacing--all of these were fine, but they were pretty expected, and they didn't blow my mind.
What I loved, though, and what I'll carry away, is how Corinne was strong and brave when she needed to be, and how she knew what was right, even when she didn't know what she needed to do. She was going to save her father no matter what, and that determination was beautifully drawn. The path that takes her on--this is the magic thing, and here is where the power comes from, etc.--is something I think I'm too old for; I've read this before, and it's fine. But Corinne carried me through all of that on her sheer strength of will.
Great book--a must for the creepy-loving ten-year-old in your life!