Always ready for some great historical fiction, I knew straight off that Christine Fletcher’s Ten Cents a Dance was going to float my boat. It swept me right up into the music and spirit and struggle of life in 1940s Chicago. At only fifteen, Ruby Jacinski is forced to drop out of school in order to work at the local meat factory, packing pigs feet. Her mother suffers from various ailments, and there is no one else in the family who can earn what is needed to pay the rent on their miserable tenement apartment and to keep food on the table. When a handsome neighborhood bad boy offers Ruby an in to work as a taxi dancer at a local dance hall, she doesn’t look back. Soon Ruby is getting paid ten cents a dance by lonely, sometimes sleazy men, to make them feel interesting and important for the length of a song. It isn’t long before men are taking Ruby out for dinner, and giving her money for clothes and jewelry. She soon learns that nothing comes without a cost. Everything has strings attached. The novel follows Ruby as she gets pulled in deeper and deeper into this captivating and potentially dangerous world, where everyone is playing their own game, for their own reasons.
Fletcher succeeds in conveying how harsh life was for those living in the poorest parts of Chicago at this time. The details offered in descriptions of the tenement and the packing house really make you understand how Ruby could get sucked into a world where money could come fast, and luxuries were finally within reach. She gets in over her head, but you can certainly understand the temptation. In the end, this is a book about hope and dreaming. What Ruby wants most of all is a chance. She wants a shot at a life that isn’t all hard work for nearly nothing, and struggle and suffering. You’ll have to read Christine Fletcher’s novel to find out if she gets it.
Highly recommended for vivid depiction of period and place, and a strong and sympathetic central character with a completely authentic voice.