Tuesday, November 15, 2011

YA Fiction: The Jumbee by Pamela Keyes

Publisher: Dial
Date: October 14, 2010
Format: hardback
Acquired: from BookTrib Review Crew
Read: for review (disclaimer: I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review.)
Pages: 385
Reading time: five days

Aspiring actress Esti Legard has lived her entire life in the shadow of her father, a famous Shakespearean actor and author. When he dies of cancer, Esti decides to reinvent herself by attending a theater school in the Caribbean for her senior year. Little does she expect, however, that her attention will be torn between two very different men in a retelling of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. Alan is an enigmatic young actor who brings out the best of Esti's talent - but refuses to meet her face-to-face. Their tutoring sessions are carried out in the dark, and Alan will not allow Esti to learn anything of his past or why he remains hidden to the world, though regarded by the island's inhabitants as a jumbee, a ghost. Then Rafe, Esti's childhood friend, arrives back on the island, bringing his bad-boy reputation and becoming a wedge in Esti and Alan's odd relationship.

The Jumbee has a lot of stuff going on: retelling a classic story, Shakespeare, Caribbean folklore, young adult interest, and romance. In many cases, this would be too much for one novel, but Keyes successfully pulls off the blend. Keyes' writing itself isn't anything spectacular - just your typical YA author - but she manages to mix together a variety of different elements to make an interesting, unique retelling. No one element is accentuated too much over the others. To readers who have read Leroux's novel or watched the movie, The Jumbee is obviously a retelling. Yet Keyes' book is not self-consciously a retelling; it sticks to the general plotline but adds enough detail and development to allow it to stand outside of the Phantom-inspired canon. Readers who are not familiar with the original story will have no problem reading and enjoying this novel. I particularly enjoyed the story from the perspective of the "Christine" character, who came off rather weak and idiotic in Leroux's book. Not so in Keyes' adaptation, where readers get to see how "Christine" falls for the two guys and is conflicted in her emotions, identity, and desires.

The Shakespeare parts of the story act more as cute-sy elements as Esti and Alan communicate through quotes. Yet readers are able to grasp the characters' reasons for their Shakespearean devotion, and it ends up serving as a cohesive element. Likewise, Caribbean folklore becomes a necessary aspect of The Jumbee as Alan's origins and place in the community are gradually revealed. There's even a hint of post-colonial racial conflict involved. The romance and love triangle come off well, unlike in many books where it seems to fall flat. Despite these varied aspects to the story, however, I was never completely drawn into it. Enjoyable, yes; memorable, no. A good read, but not one that will stand out to me after a few months or years. The action was too slow in developing, the writing didn't stand out enough, and too little creep factor was involved to allow The Jumbee to become one of my favorites.

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