Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher is a rich historical YA novel. Set before and during the early days of World War II, it follows hot-headed fifteen-year-old Ruby's transformation from innocent Catholic school girl to street-wise taxi dancer.

I love historical novels. The setting in this book was incredible. Even though I sometimes found myself so angry at Ruby I wanted to hurl the book across the room, in hindsight this was part of the book's charm. Ruby has to be the way she is, or she wouldn't have the guts to make the (stupid) decisions that make this story work. Nobody can call Ruby weak. She drops out of school to work the only job she can find -- at a meat packing factory where she has to bloody her knuckles every day jamming pigs' feet into jars. She does this because her widowed mother can't work anymore due to crippling arthritis. Her motivation comes from wanting to give her mother and sister -- and herself -- a better life than what they have in the Chicago tenements.

When Ruby meets bad-boy Paulie, an irresistible wanna-be gangster, he tells her she could earn money taxi-dancing, where men pay ten cents a dance to cha-cha with a pretty girl. Ruby figures out a good lie so her mother will let her be out all night and takes the bait. After that, it's a non-stop roller coaster for Ruby as she negotiates the seedy Chicago night-life. She finds independence, but gets herself in a lot of trouble in the process.

 I thought Fletcher bit off a big chunk with this book -- but she chewed it with aplomb. She successfully portrays a very provocative coming-of-age story and does it all in the context of an era that's rich and intriguing. Win-win, in my opinion.