“It’s taxi-dancing. The customers rent you, like a taxi. Get it?”
Ruby Jacinski is tired of working at the meat-packing plant in Back of the Yards, Chicago. When handsome Paulie Suelze tells her that she can get a job that pays fifty dollars a week —just for dancing—Ruby’s ready and willing. Unfortunately, Ruby’s Ma can’t know what she’s doing. Ruby is only fifteen, and Ma would never allow her to work at the Starlight Dance Academy with its “fifty beautiful female instructresses.” But if teaching old guys the Lindy hop and the box step for ten cents a dance will get Ruby out of the packing plant and her family out of poverty, Ruby’s determined to do it.
This book reminded me of a Young Adult version of Joyce Carol Oates’ them, a book I read last year. However I liked Ten Cents a Dance much better than I did them. Ruby was a sympathetic character, and I never felt as if the author was condescending to her or analyzing her actions like a scientist analyzing a bug specimen. I wanted Ruby to make different, better choices, but I could see how one bad decision led to the next in a downward spiral that almost ended in complete tragedy.
I’d recommend this one for older teens; there’s some language and the situation Ruby gets herself into isn’t pretty at all. However, for young adults and older adults this is a fine look at Depression era Chicago poverty just before the start of World War II, and also a good story of a girl growing up, taking responsibility for her choices and making something good out of her life in spite of it all.