The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox

The slave dancerReading level: 6.4
Lexile: 970
Genre: Historical fiction,
ELL-Friendly: No
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

Jessie Bollier often played his fife to earn a few pennies down by the New Orleans docks. One afternoon a sailor asked him to pipe a tune, and that evening Jessie was kidnapped and dumped aboard “The Moonlight,” a slave ship, where a hateful duty awaited him. He was to play music so the slaves could “dance” to keep their muscles strong, their bodies profitable. Jessie was sickened by the thought of taking part in the business of trading rum and tobacco for blacks and then selling the ones who survived the frightful sea voyage from Africa. But to the men of the ship a “slave dancer” was necessary to ensure their share of the profit. They did not heed the horrors that every day grew more vivid, more inescapable to Jessie. Yet, even after four months of fear, calculated torture, and hazardous sailing with a degraded crew, Jessie was to face a final horror that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Ug, not a good time. I found The Slave Dancer to be quite boring. I stuck it out ’til the end in hopes that I would get into it, but that never happened. 90% of the setting is on the ship where very little happens that I cared about. I just couldn’t get into Jesse’s character or the other men on the ship.

Since I thought it was dull, students may think the same. I would recommend the book to students who like pirates and historical fiction. The book got generally good reviews, though, so maybe there’s something to this book that I missed.

The lexile is fairly high, and the vocabulary is pretty sophisticated, so it’s not particularly ELL-friendly. It’s better suited to middle schoolers, but I could see high schoolers being appropriately challenged with it, too.

The n-word is used a few times, but it’s not excessive. While it’s unpleasant to hear or read that word, the men who use it are juxtaposed by Jesse who knows that slavery is horrible and morally wrong. There are some instances of the sailors drinking alcohol, but those are the only two parts that might be inappropriate.

The Slave Dancer is my eighth book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: