Saturday, July 11, 2009

BR: Ten Cents a Dance

by: Christine Fletcher

Ten Cents a Dance is set in Chicago, 1941, where taxi-dancers are women who dance with men for money. Desperate to get out of working at the packinghouse, Ruby joins Starlight, a "Dance Academy" which is basically a place where men pay ten cents a dance. Of course, it's not as simple as that. Men can buy all your dances for the rest of the night, and take you out on the town, to clubs, restaurants, and hotels.

15 year old Ruby has to support her mother and sister after her father dies, and with a suggestion from bad-boy Paulie Suelze, she enters the world of taxi-dancing. Earning more money than before, along with tips and "gifts" from the men, she also learns the art of "fishing", which is manipulating men into giving her jewelry and money. She is also in a rocky relationship with Paulie, who she is completely in love with. The 1940's Chicago setting is written fantastically, from the dresses Ruby wears, to the hot-spots around town. The segregation in the dance hall, and across town, along with the upcoming WWII is also written in. Eventually, she realizes she's in too deep, and the only one who can save her is herself.

I really, really enjoyed this novel, for many reasons. First, I loved the setting (as mentioned earlier). I could see the places in my head, the girls dressed up in evening gowns, the cheap chop-suey joints.

Another thing I loved was Ruby's characterization. I didn't love Ruby, I just liked the way she was portrayed. She is completely realistic, and I could definetly see a girl like that doing the stuff she does. She falls for the bad-boy, Paulie (the name reminds me of Paulie Bleeker from Juno, not a bad- boy who killed a man over a girl), and is completely devoted to him, neglecting the fact that he constantly pressures her for sex. She keeps going back to him after their arguments, and he complains she is a 'tease' since she has morals. Second, I could understand how she would deal with her money she is earning. With her mother thinking she is earning 18 dollars a week as a telephone operator, she has a lot of extra money, to either save or spend as she pleases. While she hopes to get her family out of the dump they live in, she can't resist buying pretty gowns, jewelry, and make up for herself. At the very beginning, she is loaned some money from a customer, but she goes off and spends it all, rather than helping her family. Selfish move, but again, realistic for a girl in her position (she was just starting the job with an ugly dress). Ruby also ruined many of her relationships with her family and friends after starting the job. She would argue with her mother, ignore her sister, and just stopped talking to her best friend. She could be naive and stupid, which really got on my nerves, but also strong and brave.

I would also like to mention that I really liked Ozzie, the negro trumpet player at Starlight who is an absolutely amazing musician. I thought he was written well, especially with the racist themes in the novel. I also loved the way the story was centered around dancing, with so many references to "old dances" like the jitterbug, fox trot, waltzes, and lindy hop.

Basically, I thought the story was tied together really really well. The dancing, the people, the clothes, the setting, and the pressures Ruby was under all went excellently together. The world of a taxi-dancer (which I didn't know anything about before) was explored and navigated by a 15 year old girl with issues and dreams.

8.9/10- because like I mentioned, I liked the realistic characters and Ruby's misadaventures, the taxi-dancing aspect, and most of all, the setting. It really interests me how times were back then, and I felt Fletcher either really did her research, or is an excellent storyteller. It's a wonderful novel, explores themes that I usually don't read about, and gives insight to a girl who is just trying to get by, a bit self-centered, but brave. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and I'm really pleased I bought it.


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