Juba!: A Novel

Juba!: A Novel
Age Range
Release Date
October 13, 2015
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In New York Times bestselling author Walter Dean Myers's last novel, he delivers a gripping story based on the life of a real dancer known as Master Juba, who lived in the nineteenth century. This engaging historical novel is based on the true story of the meteoric rise of an immensely talented young black dancer, William Henry Lane, who influenced today's tap, jazz, and step dancing. With meticulous and intensive research, Walter Dean Myers has brought to life Juba's story. The novel includes photographs, maps, and other images from Juba's time and an afterword from Walter Dean Myers's wife about the writing process of Juba!

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Writing Style
Based on a real person, this novel starts in New York City in 1842. William Henry Lane, who calls himself Juba, lives in a room rented to him and Stubby by elderly Irish fishmonger Jack. Stubby loves to cook and does well with assisting Jack in going door to door to sell fish, but Juba just wants to dance. He has some luck in a variety of Irish run nightclubs, but does not want to do minstrel shows or "blacken up" his act. It's bad enough that there is slavery in parts of the U.S. and that black entertainers are considered third class. When he is given a chance to arrange a show, he puts together one with the help of a neighbor lady, and is brought to the attention of the traveling Charles Dickens, who mentions Juba in his book about his travels. Soon, Juba is approached about touring in England with a group of black entertainers who are trying to move beyond the minstrel show. Juba decides to go, and enjoys his life in England, although employment is not always easy to find. He is glad that he doesn't have to worry about being sold into slavery, and claims to be from Barbados so he is not an alien. He eventually marries Sarah, and has some acclaim as a dancer, but ends up ill and in a work house at the end of his short life.
Good Points
This was an interesting look at the entertainment industry in New York City, and good coverage of a rather neglected time period. This is clearly well researched and a good addition to historical novels about African Americans that are not about slavery or Civil Rights. The inclusion of pictures and artifacts adds interest as well.

Juba's drive and determination despite the difficult circumstances he faced will appeal to many readers, and the vibrant descriptions of the entertainment world are a good choice for readers who have a interest in theater or dance.

Myers has a tremendous body of work, but this may well be his last published book, so definitely travel back in time and dance with Juba!
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