By Ben, 13 August 2020
When I was in primary school in Malaysia, my best friend and I would scare ourselves silly by reading the Dark Forces series of teen horror story books. The cover art alone was spine-chilling, and woe betide if you read too late into the night. I swear that I saw the long-haired blond girl with the Ouija board in our bathroom a couple of times. Recently, I decided it was time for Ben and I to make our foray into much less scary middle grade chapter books. The Jumbies had been on my reading list for ages. This is what Ben thought of the ghost-infested fast-paced thriller.
M: So, Ben. Tell me, do you like scary stories?
B: Yeah, sort of. Remember those comics with scary stories from around the world, those that we read in Popular Bookshop in KL?
M: Oh yes. Were they scary?
B: Actually, not really. They tried to draw the monsters scary, but they ended up looking funny. They didn’t give me nightmares. The ones in The Jumbies didn’t either, but that’s probably because the book didn’t have any pictures.
M: Well, we should jump right into it then. What exactly are jumbies?
B: They are supposedly spirits who live in a forest on an island, and they are bad, but then they are not that bad in the end. Oops, is that a spoiler?
M: Umm, you’re right, we don’t want to spoil the ending for our friends who want to read this do we? OK, let’s talk about the characters. Who is the protagonist then?
B: A girl called Corinne who lives with her dad. She grows and sells oranges and her dad is a fisherman. Her mom died when she was very little. It had to be her mom that died because in these books, if anyone is going to die, it’s the mom, for some reason.
M: Do you know why?
B: Because moms are useless?
M: [Icy stare]
B: Pretend I didn’t say that.
M: ANYWAY. So what happens to Corinne?
B: She went into the forest to get back a necklace that her mom had given her before she died. There were these two boys who took the necklace and tied it to an agouti, which is a type of bunny I guess, and it ran off into the forest. The jumbie followed her out of the forest.
M: Yikes. What did this jumbie look like?
B: A beautiful woman, who wore green. Her name was Severine.
M: Hmmm, interesting. A lot of Asian ghosts actually tend to be women. With long hair, and long tongues [Interlude: we search up Malaysian ghosts on the Internet. They don’t look very nice, or very beautiful]. And then what happened?
B: Severine tried to make Corinne’s father into her slave by feeding him some sort of magic potion, in a stew.
M: I see. So, I guess Corinne had to save her father.
B: Yes, and then the whole island. But I can’t say any more because it is full of spoilers.
M: OK, let’s talk about the other characters then. Corinne made a few friends, didn’t she? Who were they?
B: There was Dru, a little girl, whose mom sold stuff in the market. And two orphan boys called Bouki and Malik. Malik couldn’t speak, so I think he is special. These boys were actually the ones who stole Corinne’s necklace and put it on the agouti in the first place. But then they all became friends.
M: I guess that’s all we can say without giving it all away. Last question. What did you like most about the story?
B: That there were different types of jumbies, like the old woman who seemed like a regular old woman, but she turns into a fireball when you come near her. That was cool.
M: But not scary?
B: No, not really. I don’t know, but it might be scary for sensitive kids, even at my age.
M: With active imaginations?
B: I guess…now can I watch tv?
M: Sigh [rolling my eyes]. Just until 5 pm!
For ages 8 and up.