The Jumbee, Pamela Keyes
I began this book with an eye to rating it for pre-teens and teens but quickly realized that it was not going to be suitable for anyone other than a sophisticated teenager, no younger than the age of 13. I felt that way, in particular, because although there is no explicit sex at all, the romantic innuendos and concepts are too advanced for someone younger.
In addition, I found the cover a bit off-putting. It seemed to be trying to fit into the current craze for horror and the supernatural, of zombies and ghosts, blood and gore, but really it was much more than that. Some young adults and/or parents might be put off from buying it because of the cover, yet the book is much more than a horror story. It felt more like a teen ghost story with many mysterious events which will strike fear and excitement in the reader while giving them a bit extra as it introduces them to many of Shakespeare’s plays. I thought it was a notch above many of the current popular tales. Also, the use of the island dialect was sometimes disarming but it, and the use of olde English for the play’s roles, was an excellent device to move the story along and give it more depth.
From the earliest pages of the prologue, I was drawn into the story. The moment Esti arrives on the Island of Cariba for her last year of High School, following the death of her super famous actor father, from whose shadow she wants to escape, she is faced with a series of mishaps and omens, beginning with the loss of her luggage. This is closely followed by the questionable accidental death of a fellow student actor, almost as soon as she enters the theater to practice her lines for tryouts in Romeo and Juliet. Some island people believe he was murdered by a Jumbee, a cross between a ghost and a zombie.
The book, which takes place on an island in the Caribbean, is a well written, romantic mystery, complete with the excitement of haunted islands that seem alive with sound and supernatural beings. I loved the idea of naming the chapters as acts and scenes in a play. It drew me into the book and made me feel as if I was watching a live performance as the characters rehearsed their roles.
It is a story which covers the coming of age of a young girl who is searching for her own identity, It features the problems teens face from other jealous teens, the stirring of romantic interests, the difficulties of growing up and so much more. It effortlessly enlightens the reader about the injustice of slavery, island superstitions and crosses racial lines, without drawing notice to them, so comfortably that it leaves one wondering why “we all can’t just get along”. Race is simply not an issue although it is very much a part of the book.
Although there are moments in the tale which leave you angry with the main character for her selfishness and naivete, she grows and matures as the book progresses into a more sensible teenager and it leaves you with a moral or ethical message about the importance of knowing right from wrong, feeling compassion and working together toward a common goal.