Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

RATING: 4/5

Ruby's Jacinski's life would be hard for anyone, but the fact that she's 16 makes it nearly unbearable. She's living in the stockyard district of Chicago, bottling pig's feet for a living so that she, her mother, and her younger sister can survive. The 1940s, when this book takes place, were an interesting intersection, technologically speaking. Ruby is living, virtually, a turn of the century lifestyle. She shares a bathroom with all the other people in her building. They have an icebox, a coal stove, no warm water. And literally five blocks down, people have electric refrigerators and private bathrooms.

Ruby wants out. A man she meets gives her a tip about "taxi dance halls," and suggests that she would make a good dancer. After creating a suitable cover story for her mother, Ruby dives headfirst into the underworld of Chicago nightlife. Earning ten cents per dance and working with girls who are willing to do more than dance with the men they meet, Ruby gets a quick and dirty education. There are people from all sides hounding her - crazies she meets at the dance hall, fellow dancers, her mother, her sister. And, as the book goes on, Ruby finds herself falling in love.

I couldn't put the book down, and her story is a very unique and intriguing one. I just kept thinking "no no no no, Ruby!! Don't do that, you idiot!!" She was a teenager living in a world with real life gangsters and dime a dozen prostitutes. She is a tough cookie - throwing punches more than once, but she was also so naive and made such horrible choices. While I'd say this is definitely a young adult book, it really deals with very adult issues and while there is definitely romance, I can't say it is particularly romantic.

The author took great care to be historically accurate. She paints an excellent picture of one of my favorite cities - and because my grandmother grew up during this time in this same city, I know she even got the feel and language of the city just right. She's given us a completely new look at the WWII homefront and I'm glad I read it.

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