Seventeen-year-old Esti Legard spent her childhood in the Shakespearean world of her famous father, and when he died, she knew she could never give up acting. After she and her mother move to a Caribbean island for her senior year, she realizes that nothing at her new school’s theater department is quite as it seems. Stunned by the death of a fellow student on her first day of class, Esti is soon surrounded by legends of the wicked jumbees that haunt the West Indies. She finds herself snubbed by the school’s star actress and relegated to a minor part in Romeo and Juliet.
Only her intriguing new friend, the elusive Alan, shares her passion for Shakespeare. Hiding in the dark recesses of the theater, he leads Esti deep into her own soul to explore the limits of her talent. When Esti’s childhood best friend moves to the island and back into her life, however, Alan disappears. Rocked by growing accusations of befriending a jumbee, Esti realizes she must find out who – or what – Alan really is. She is soon forced to defy everyone and everything she’s ever believed in, as she plunges into the mysteries of Shakespeare and the legends of the West Indians, discovering shocking truths about her own past that will forever shape her future.
At first glance this is not a book I normally would have picked up since I have no background in theater or Caribbean culture. Half the fun of reviewing uncorrected bound proofs is that it exposes us to books we otherwise never would have known about. This is one of those books that took me pleasantly by surprise. The story starts out as Esti and her mother Aurora have just moved to their second home in Caribe after the death of Esti’s father, the famous actor Legarde. Esti is thrown into the world of Shakespeare in preparation for an upcoming school play and while practicing hears a mysterious voice. The voice helps her realize her potential as an actress and though she has never seen his face she is drawn to his whisperings. Locals begin to speculate that Esti has the gift of speaking with the Jumbee, a ghost who haunts the theater. We are introduced to to the Caribbean history of sugar cane fields and slavery, as well as West Indian English slang. It took me a while to get used to reading the shift between Esti’s English and the accent of those who live on the Island. (Think the movie Cool Runnings and Rastafarian reggae lyrics) The Jumbee’s setting is tropical and colorful juxtaposed with the haunting and eerie island called the Cay. You’ll find yourself pulled between two opposite attractions.
Once Esti is hooked on her phantom mentor Alan, her childhood friend Rafe comes back into the picture to teach her to swim and snorkel. These were some of my favorite scenes in the book. Rafe’s carefree, fun personality stand in stark contrast to the cold removed personality of Alan, the other main love interest. I had a hard time with how many times Esti seems to flip flop instantly between the two. She is very indecisive and compulsive so readers are pulled into her on again off again antics. Will Esti choose the detached hidden voice or the comfort of her live, warm island friend?
Esti and Rafe as well as many of the islanders are in danger as accidents are piling up and everyone suspects the Jumbee. Who is Alan, is he really what everyone suspects and will Rafe stick around with Esti through all of the drama? This is a page flipper with plenty of suspense, lots of literary references and a dash of romance. It reminds me a lot of The Phantom of The Opera with a Caribbean twist and a detective work ending. The Jumbee is an original idea and well written for ages 12 and up. To learn more and read an expert from the book visit Pamela Keyes website at http://www.pamelakeyes.com/jumbie.htm
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