Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
IQ "It was like how Ozzie's music made me feel. Not just like dancing, although at the beginning that had been most of it. But then his music changed, or I did, and the scream and soar of his trumpet made me feel bigger than the Starlight. Bigger than all Chicago. No one to say, You can't. Like what I'd imagined it might be like to go somewhere new, nobody knowing what you'd done or who you'd been. To see who you could become next."
Ten Cents a Dance is probably one of my all-time favorite historical fiction novels. It's set during one of my favorite time periods, the 1940s and in one of my favorite cities (Chicago). Ten Cents is about 15 year old Ruby Jacinski who is working full-time to support her mother and little sister after her father dies. She drops out of school and is working at a packinghouse. The "neighborhood bad boy" Paulie Suelze takes an interest in her and tells her about taxi dancers. Taxi dancers are girls who work in dancing halls who get paid to dance with men. Ruby's always loved to dance and she's good at it. She takes the job at the Starlight dance hall and soon she's making more money than she's ever had before. However, being a taxi dancer is viewed as unrespectable (people thought they were also prostitutes) and Ruby lies to her mother about where she really works. The title refers to how much a dance cost, men paid a dime per dance, the dancer got to keep a nickel of that. For more information on taxi dancers, go here.
Christine Fletcher's style of writing is stunning. I could hear the jazz music drifting from the pages, see the dancers dancing. The research is so through and well-done, I think even the smallest detail added to the story. This book doesn't just throw information at you, spouting historical facts. You hardly realize you've learned something until you're in history class and your teacher is asking about policy kings (policy was illegal gambling done mostly in African American neighborhoods in the city) and you remember that being mentioned in Ten Cents and you answer the question correctly! I don't what to turn this review into a history lesson, so just check out Christine's website, it's got some awesome resources about the '40s!
One of my favorite things about this book is the descriptions of racial relations. Discrimination against Filipinos play a pretty big role in the story. I didn't know much about how Filipinos were treated so that was interesting to read about. The book also taught me abut "black and tans" and policy kings. Black and tans were clubs that allowed Blacks and whites to dance together. I didn't even know that interracial dancing was acceptable, but in some places it was. Policy kings were men who controlled the gambling and made the most profit, Chicago was the only city that didn't have white gangsters running policy. I knew nothing about Black gangsters or policy kings so that was very intriguing.
Ruby is a great character. She's strong and resilient. She works hard, makes some mistakes, but she learns from them. I was rooting for her every step of the way and honestly, in almost all the situations she was put in, I would have acted the same way she did (that's one way to tell a historical fiction novel is good, when you would do the same thing a character from another time period would do!). The relationship I have with my mother is similar to the one she has with her mom, so I could relate to that as well. I loved Ozzie too (a black trumpet player at the dance hall Ruby works at) and I want to know more about him!
I also really love the cover, the shady background and how you can only see a woman's hand and the back of a man's head. And I love the header "Bad boys and secrets are both hard to keep..."
When I finished Ten Cents a Dance, I was so disappointed to put it down. I wanted to stay in Ruby's world longer, I even wanted to be a taxi dancer! I wanted to learn all the dances of the '40s and wear the beautiful dresses :) The ending wasn't as great as I would have liked, but I'm hoping for a sequel! *crosses fingers* I highly recommend this book to all readers, even if you don't like historical fiction. READ IT ANYWAY! High school and up.