CBR15Passport I own
Based on true events of a little-known dancer of the pre-Civil War era, Juba: A Novel by Walter Dean Myers is a story of race and fame. This is the story of the man who invented modern tap dance. There is a mixture of humor and seriousness to the text as well as the overall tone. There is some language used (the N word and “racoon” without the “ra”) and talk of violence that happened (in the south and even north) therefore, not this is not for everyone. However, because of that it helps makes this an interesting look at history of New York, the Southern states and even Europe, while also being a history of the entertainment world.
William Henry “Juba” Lane (or Master Juba when he danced) was a young teen when the book opens. By the end we have gone through several years of what could have been his life and the struggles he would have faced and even the joys he had. He would marry a white, English woman and sadly, died young, but Myers’ book hopefully brings him to a new generation. It also is introducing another story to African American history. Juba was freeborn, but even that would not protect him, though it did give him a chance at a path that many of the time would not have had.
The feeling of things is simply presented, but that cleverly hides a deeper situation. The strongest scenes are the ones where, unfortunately the racism is in your face. Or the ones where race is talked about (the character of Margaret, an Irish immigrant, might not be the nicest person, but she does have some hard facts). These show you why Juba was driven and why he did what he had to do (did you know that even people of color would do blackface?). The cast of characters are mostly fictionalized (yet based on the historical times) as well as actual historical figures (Charles Dickens makes a few appearances). On one hand I would have loved to go deeper into all the people, but on the other hand focusing on just Juba is a good way to keep things strong. We do not do a “deep dive” into the man, but we get a poetic feeling in solid prose.
Due to some of the language and situations, this book is best for strong ages 10 and up. I would have liked to have seen how this book would have been updated/changed if it was written and/or revised today, and not almost 10 years ago, but sadly Myers passed in 2014.