Step into the magical world of Gumlea
From the moment that Annie was born, she and her older brother, Jamie, were inseparable. Alike in almost every way, they promised to always take care of each other while facing the challenges of growing up different in suburban America. And when life became too much for them, they created their own space in the woods behind their house: a fantasy world, called Gumlea, where no one else could find them.
And it was enough, for a while. But then came middle school, when Jamie grew dark and distant. He found new friends, a girlfriend, and a life away from Annie and Gumlea. Soon it was as if she hardly knew the brother who was her other half.
And then, one day, he disappears.
Annie, her family, and the entire community are devastated. And as the days turn into months turn into years, everyone begins to accept that Jamie is gone for good. Everyone, that is, except Annie, who believes that Jamie, somehow, has entered Gumlea, and who believes that she’s the only one who can bring him back.
But as Annie searches for answers and finds a new relationship with a girl she did not expect, she makes startling discoveries about her brother’s disappearance-and has to decide how much of herself she’s willing to give up in order to keep hope alive.
TW: Rape, Kidnapping, Abduction, Abuse, PTSD, Violence
Jamie and Annie are siblings born a year apart, though that being said, they might as well be twins. Together they created a fantasy world of their own called Gumlea. In Gumlea, Annie is not Annie anymore but Emperata Annit and her brother is the Nameless Boy. Together they explore this magical land of their creation, setting rules and obeying the King.
This felt like the beginning of a new epic fantasy where these siblings dive into a world of their creation and fight/play with these magical creatures. They have to obey the rules set by the King and pay tithe’s to appease him. They both promised that Gumlea was theirs and theirs alone and telling another soul would incur a punishment.
However, as all things do, change is coming. Jamie becomes distanced from his sister, he changes from what she’s known into a popular kid (now called James) with a mysterious girlfriend Vidya and Annie begins to resent her brother. They went from having no secrets to drifting apart completely.
One day, when she’s looking out of her window, she sees her brother step backwards, as they do to enter Gumlea and he vanishes. This is strange to her as he hasn’t bothered to play there for some time but as they relationship has dwindled, she turned her back and went to bed, leaving him to it. Two year pass from this point and Jamie has vanished.
Annie might as well be invisible to her family which irked me somewhat, I didn’t feel like Jamie was this magical child that deserved all of the attention but was glad when Annie could finally move on. The story centered a lot around Jamie. I liked Annie and related to her quite a bit for being the artsy/quirky character. Jamie irritated me and Vidya was an interesting perspective to read from.
I did love the queer representation in this book and these young characters discovering themselves. It felt like a very real representation of teenage relationships and just life in general. I think I would have preferred some acknowledgement as to who’s perspective we are reading from (there are three within the book) as there was no indication reading and this was confusing at times.
There are so many topics tackled within this book from sexual preference (lesbian, bi and non-binary) to religion and I feel they were handled quite well.
Strange Creatures is indeed a strange book, there’s so much going on from the fantasy intros to each chapter before going back to the ‘real-world’. Some parts of this book are slow and it’s a bit of a slog to get through as the book itself is over 500 pages.
What happened to Jamie was awful, I did initially think he did disappear into Gumlea but the truth was much more shocking with his abduction and subsequent abuse/rape. It caught me off guard and it felt a bit odd. His reasons for staying didn’t quite gel for me but that other boy appearing I like to think that he didn’t want the same thing happening to him too and so decided to finally escape. I wasn’t a fan of the media attention and Jamie’s new girlfriend later on, that felt a bit like he was forced to ‘play normal’. I was glad when he met Travis and that felt more like he found himself and is on the right road to healing.
Annie heading off to art school and finding herself outside of her brother was a nice journey for her, as she grew up she became a little unlikeable and her meeting up with Vidya again was like closure. I’m glad Vidya was able to finally free herself from the sibling and move on with her life too.
It is a coming of age story with some shocking twists and it’ll stick with me for a while but I’m not sure if its for a good reason.