Juba!

by | Read by Brandon Gill

Published by HarperAudio

New York City's Five Points district in 1846 is a volatile mixture of poor blacks and immigrants from Europe. William Henry Lane is a teenager working odd jobs to make ends meet, but he really loves to dance. Watching the other dancers in Five Points, and practicing when he can, he gets so good that he begins to call himself "Master Juba."

Master Juba is just another entertainer, dancing in return for supper money, until he is brought to the attention of Charles Dickens, the great English novelist. Dickens writes about Juba and his dancing in his book American Notes, and it is as "Boz's Juba" (Boz was Dickens's nom de plume) that Juba performs in England with the Pell Serenaders. Juba quickly finds that, in London, he's turning heads and taking the city by storm with his dancing skills and sense of rhythm.

But what will Juba do when the Serenaders have to return to the United States? Slavery has been abolished in England; in the U.S., it still exists in all its ugliness. Free black men and women are often captured in the North and sent down South as slaves. England offers freedoms that Juba could only dream of in the States, and returning home may prove a dangerous decision.

This novel is based on a true story, the intricacies of Juba's meteoric rise as an explosive young black dancer brought to life by Walter Dean Myers through meticulous and intensive research.

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AudioFile Review

Juba!

Myers's posthumously published novel, set in the 1840s, tells the story of William Henry Lane, a free black dancer known as Master Juba. Incorporating the Irish step dancing he saw around him as a child in Brooklyn with African and minstrel styles, Juba developed what came to be known as tap dancing and was celebrated in London, as well as New York, until his early death at 27. Sadly, the ambiance of the times and the exuberance of Juba's dancing don't translate well to audio, despite the efforts of narrator Brandon Gill. Listeners unfamiliar with old minstrel shows will miss the historical pictures in the print edition, and, though Juba and his friends are mostly well realized by Gill, the challenge of the Irish accents makes it sometimes problematic to determine which character is speaking. S.G. © AudioFile 2015, Portland, Maine


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