Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Ten Cents a Dance

Christine Fletcher
Ten Cents a Dance
Christine Fletcher
Bloomsbury, July 2009

About the Book

With her mother ill, it’s up to fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski to support her family. But in the 1940s, the only opportunities open to a Polish-American girl from Chicago’s poor Yards is a job in one of the meat packing plants. Through a chance meeting with a local tough, Ruby lands a job as a taxi dancer and soon becomes an expert in the art of “fishing”: working her patrons for meals, cash, clothes, even jewelry. Drawn ever deeper into the world of dance halls, jazz, and the mob, Ruby gradually realizes that the only one who can save her is herself. A mesmerizing look into a little known world and era.

My Review

Ten Cents a Dance is a book I enjoyed a great deal. But it could make a movie that I would just love and adore. Set around 1940–1941, the novel follows the adventures and misadventures of a teen girl, Ruby Jacinski, who is charmed away from the meat factories by the glamor and allure of a local dance hall.

 Instead of slaving all day for a very small paycheck, she could be dancing the night away at a taxi dance hall. Ten cents per dance. A nickel is hers to keep. A nickel is the dance hall’s share. And her partners almost always tip as well. It may be small—a nickel, a dime—or a bit larger—half-dollar or dollar. Sometimes they even offer to take her out for a meal and/or to another after-hours club. The men can buy the rest of her dances for the evening to the club, and she can clock out early. Sometimes they give her money or gifts as well. Of course, they’re hoping that these lead to something else. They want much more than a dance for their trouble if they’re going to spend more than a dime or two on her. It’s a sometimes dangerous game that Ruby is playing with herself. And of course, Ruby’s mother is a bit clueless about her daughter’s new job. Easily placated by lies that her daughter is a telephone operator.

Whose idea was this in the first place? Ruby heard about the dance halls and the opportunity to earn up to $50 a week from the local bad boy, gangster-wanna-be Paulie Suelze. He’s a guy that everyone warns her about, but no one can keep her from. Even as she’s accepting all these favors from men—and these favors include a smooch or two--she’s secretly sneaking around with Paulie, a guy who’s not even remotely bothered that “his girl” is running around all hours of the night with men paying her to keep them company. Sounds suspcious doesn’t it?

The characters are well drawn, and the plot kept my interest throughout. Definitely something I’d be happy to recommend to readers who love historical fiction—especially World War II themed historical fiction. I won’t go into all the details. But this one is nicely layered in culture, among other things. The music. The movies. The dances. The clothes. The hairstyles. I just think this would make a great movie so you could see the whole picture of what life is like.

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