Ten Cents a Dance -- Christine Fletcher
This wasn't any Saturday night at the corner drugstore, hoofing it to a dinged-up jukebox with the same kids we saw every day of our lives. This was the Young Man's Club annual dance, the biggest in the Yards. Some said the biggest in Chicago. I'd been trying to talk Ma into letting me go since I was eleven. This year, she said yes.
Not that it didn't take some work. But if fifteen and a half was old enough to drop out of school and get a job, then it was old enough for the Young Men's Club. Ma had to see that, and I'd kept after her until finally, she gave in.
At the front door of the hall, Angie grabbed my coat sleeve. "Ruby, wait! Damn, this girdle's tight . . . How do I look?"
"Gorgeous," I said. I meant it. Angie had a kitten's face, wide across the eyes and a little pointed chin. "How about me?" I asked.
"Hotsy-totsy," Angie said. "Togged to the bricks."
At the dance, Ruby hooks up with Paulie Suelze, a young up-and-coming gangster who tells her that she could make loads of money -- much more than she's currently making at the meat-packing plant -- doing what she does best: dancing. Soon enough, she's getting paid ten cents a dance (plus tips) at the Starlight Dance Academy. She starts to think that she just might be able to get herself and her family out of the Yards for good. But keeping her new job means keeping it a secret from her mother -- taxi dancers aren't exactly respectable -- and then there's Paulie Suelze...
"Hotsy-totsy". "Togged to the bricks". How much do you love that? Even if the rest of the book hadn't worked, reading Ten Cents a Dance for the '40s slang alone would have been a joy. Luckily, the rest of the book DID work, so it was even more of a joy. The relationships between the characters, the drama at home, at work and with Paulie, the atmosphere, the details about the setting and period (clothing, music, race relations, attitudes, working conditions, anything and everything you can imagine), Ruby's evolving opinions about the world she lives in -- everything felt seamless and organic and I believed in it all.
Christine Fletcher must have done a crazy-huge amount of research for this one, but not once did I feel like she was trying to force little interesting facts in on me. I felt immersed in Ruby's world and her time, and I didn't want to leave it. I was so involved in her story that at one key moment, my jaw literally dropped. And then, of course, there was Ruby -- she's frustrated and stifled at home, but loves her mother and sister and makes sacrifice after sacrifice for them, she's spirited and bright, funny, resourceful and imperfect -- she's a heroine I can't imagine disliking.
Highly recommended, recommended, recommended! A must-read for those who enjoy YA historicals.