Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher. (Grades 9+)
Chicago. 1941. Ruby Jacinski, fifteen years old, is forced to quit school and get a job at a meat-packing family to support her ailing mother and younger sister. It's hard, disgusting, ill-paid work but Ruby can forget all about it when she's dancing. From the waltz to the jitterbug to the Lindy Hop, Ruby loves dancing more than anything.
When bad boy heartthrob Paulie Suelze tells her that she could earn four times what she currently makes by dancing at the Starlight Dance Academy, Ruby thinks it's too good to be true. With money like that she could pay off the back rent and grocers' bills. She could put meat on the table and buy warm clothes for her mother. The only problem is that the job, well, it's not something good girls do. As Ruby gets sucked into the world of taxi-dancing - staying out late, accepting dinner and gifts from strangers, drinking and smoking - she has to hide the truth from her family.
I loved this book! Ruby's world was so real that I felt like I fell into it and didn't want to leave. Christine Fletcher's obviously done her research, but it never felt research-y. Details really add to the story and make it seem real without being dry. I especially liked the details about the fancy dresses that Ruby buys to dance in. I could practically see them as she swished by on the dance floor.
Another thing I liked so, so much was that Ruby's voice sounded authentically 1940s while still being accessible to the modern-day reader. It's a hard balance to reach, but I think Ms. Fletcher did it perfectly.
The book also touches on a lot of issues - race relations, class issues, the mafia, the beginning of the war - without feeling like an Issues book.
I absolutely didn't want to put it down. I wanted to devour it and savor it at the same time (which is hard to do). Highly recommended and one of my favorite books of the year.
Read more reviews at bookshelves of doom, Teen Book Review, librarian by day, Oops....Wrong Cookie, and The YA YA YAs. Be sure to check out Christine Fletcher's website.