Ten Cents a Dance

Ten Cents a Dance

4.3 33
by Christine Fletcher

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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":

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Inspired by the experiences of her great-aunt, Fletcher (Tallulah Falls) imagines two years in the life of a scrappy girl from a working-class community in Chicago during WWII. Just 15 and saddled with the responsibility of supporting her ailing mother and younger sister, Ruby Jacinski quits school to work in a meatpacking factory but is soon dazzled by the prospect of earning big money as a taxi dancer (professional dance partner)—an idea she picks up from her neighborhood crush, mobster wannabe Paulie. Fletcher sustains the narrative with the ongoing tension between Ruby's buttoned-up family persona and her desire for a real romance, the glamour of dressing up and dancing to jazz, and baiting "fish" (customers) for dinner dates and money. Ruby's ability to skate away from an entanglement with an older, very crass client, a disillusioning relationship with Paulie and a brush with the mob can strain credibility; however, the depiction of Chicago nightlife in the '40s and Ruby's deft observations ("the look on his face, like the music itself had put on a dress and come up to him and said hello") add depth and complexity. Ages 14-up. (Apr.)

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VOYA - Jenny Ingram
In 1941 Chicago, fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski trades school for work in the meat-packing plants to support her widowed, sick mother and her younger sister. Barely getting by, Ruby borrows money and clothes from a friend and attends a dance one evening where she meets Paulie, a shady young man who encourages her to work as a taxi dancer, charging ten cents per dance in a dance hall. Ruby creates a complex network of lies to hide her dubious new job and increased income from her family. World War II and her mother's remarriage bring Ruby's dance career to a sudden end, and unable to reenter her previous life as a teenage schoolgirl, Ruby leaves Chicago to support the war effort by building airplanes in California. Fletcher's depiction of taxi dancers is fair, acknowledging that some dancers were more guileless in their work than others, and she writes about sex sensibly and rationally. The descriptions of nightlife are lively and engaging, and they bring to light race, class, and gender issues in 1940s Chicago, which are fodder for discussion. Leisure readers will enjoy this novel, but it will also be useful in the classroom as a historical snapshot. Reviewer: Jenny Ingram
VOYA - Rebecca Moreland
This novel smoothly dances readers back in time to an era of jazz, boys, and a nation on the brink of war. Even decades later, many female readers will be able to relate to some of the facets of Ruby's teenage life, a time during which she is thrown into an unforgiving world and must find out her true identity. The story is rifled throughout with superb emotions and detailed descriptions. The captivating setting and engaging, complex characters make this book a must-read for more than solely fanatics of historical fiction. Reviewer: Rebecca Moreland, Teen Reviewer
Children's Literature - Suzanna E. Henshon
Have you ever dreamed of a more glamorous life than the one you have? The time is 1941, the place is Chicago, and Ruby Jacinski is a schoolgirl with "castle in the sky" dreams. When her mother becomes too ill to work, Ruby drops out of school to support the family. But she soon gets tired of working in a slaughterhouse and yearns for something more exciting. That is when Ruby runs into Paulie Suelze, the classic bad boy. Ruby discovers she can make tons of money by wearing silk and satin dresses at the Starlight Dance Academy. With a little charm and a good dance step, Ruby begins raking in plenty of cash—and her factory job becomes a thing of the past. Lonely men pay ten cents a dance to take Ruby around the dance floor at this popular night club. Ruby realizes she can help her mother and little sister move out of the Chicago tenements and into better housing. But is this what Ruby really wants? If she could be anywhere, would she be a dance hall girl in Chicago? After her mother remarries, Ruby is told she must return to school. It is back to the uniform again. At the age of sixteen, already having experienced a sophisticated world, Ruby cannot return to the girl she once was. But where does she belong now? Will she ever find her place in the world? Christine Fletcher's second novel is a dynamic spin through the streets of Chicago, the world of jazz, and the heart of an adolescent girl coming of age during the 1940s, a turbulent time in history. Reviewer: Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up- In 1941, Ruby Jacinski, 15, quits school and works at a meatpacking plant to support her ailing mother and her sister. Her life changes dramatically when Paulie, a handsome young man with a terrible reputation, takes an interest in her and encourages her to pursue a job at the Starlight Dance Academy. There, she can earn a lot of money, get her family out of debt, and live a more exciting life by dancing with lonely men. For someone who loves to dance, the job is a dream come true, but Ruby soon learns that it comes with a price. She lies to her mother and tries to avoid the constant hustle and manipulation from both the customers and her coworkers. As she continues to turn to Paulie for protection and advice, she gets caught up in the seedier side of Chicago's poor Back of the Yards district. This is a unique look at U.S. social history. Ruby is tough, strong, and determined, but maintains the innocent and idealistic dreams of adolescence, thus endearing her to readers. The grittier side of Chicago nightlife and the harsh pressures on wartime youth to mature quickly are well delineated. This intriguing story is well paced and well researched.-Kimberly Monaghan, formerly at Vernon Area Public Library, IL

Kirkus Reviews
Fletcher offers a hard-boiled work of historical fiction that captures America's social struggles at the beginning of World War II. Sixteen-year-old Ruby secretly works as a taxi dancer, jitterbugging with men for money, to get her family out of Chicago's slums. Ruby's neighborhood, The Yards, looms with its gritty tenements, sooty windows and ever-present stink. Like all the characters in this novel, Ruby feels cornered by circumstance and desperate to escape. As a taxi dancer, her innocence quickly fades. Right and wrong blur, her customers' kisses grow more frequent and she falls for a small-time gangster. Ruby enters a very adult world-one full of haggard broads, dirty old men, booze, jazz clubs and low-cut gowns. Many teens might not be able to follow. Ruby's nerve and sass make her a distinctive character, however, and she brings the language, rhythms and social changes of the 1940s alive. (Historical fiction. YA)

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Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
14 - 18 Years

Meet the Author

Christine Fletcher grew up in California. After receiving her veterinary degree from the University of California, she lived for three years in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. She writes, teaches, and practices veterinary medicine in Portland, OR. www.christinefletcherbooks.com

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