Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Ten Cents a Dance - Christine Fletcher

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher
Genre: YA, historical fiction, romance
Published on April 1, 2008
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 356
Read In: October 2011

Chicago, 1941
When her mother becomes too ill to work, fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski is forced to drop out of school to support her family. But her dull factory job makes life feel like one long dead end, until she meets neighborhood bad boy Paulie Suelze. Soon Ruby discovers how to make money - lots of money - while wearing silk and satin and doing what she does best: dancing. Paid ten cents a dance to lead lonely men around a dance hall floor, Ruby thinks she's finally found a way out of Chicago's tenements . . . until swinging with the hepcats turns into swimming with the sharks.


I went into this book anticipating sexual content and no characters to really sympathize with or like. My suspicions were proven correct: there are lots of sexual references and quite a bit of characters touching other characters in a very intimate manner. All of the girls talk about their voluptuousness (or lack of), and none of them are afraid to use what they have to catch a customer's attention.

Ruby, at first, is somewhat easy to sympathize with. Her family is on the verge of starvation and in her innocence doesn't realize what sort of job she's getting herself into. Ruby spends a lot of the book struggling morally with her decision to keep her job once she does find out that it isn't really a dance school, and she admits that it's the allure of pretty clothes and expensive jewelry and makeup that really kept her from quitting. But it's hard to completely buy into her innocence when she already has a bit of a history for flirtation, and when one customer demands too much of Ruby, it's even harder to believe that if she's as innocent and moral as she at first claims, why would she be struggling with whether or not to give in to his wishes?

On that topic, there are at least two scenes which come too close to being explicit (I say at least two because I did not finish the book, nor do I intend to). The first one is surprisingly gentle in its relation. Nothing comes of it, and the Author never outright says that the customer who gets out of hand wanted to sleep with her, but it's pretty bloody obvious nonetheless. The second is where I stopped reading. From the beginning of when Ruby and Paulie start dating, Paulie makes it pretty clear what he's really after, and for a long time Ruby doesn't give in because she doesn't want to shame her mother. But eventually Paulie starts pressing too much, which leads to a very intimate touching scene which does not waver from explicit descriptions, and then Ruby finally gives Paulie what he wants - not because he's pressuring her, oh no, but because Ruby thinks that because her mom has remarried, it's okay now for her (Ruby) to do whatever she bloody well pleases. The Author doesn't relate Paulie's and Ruby's overnight rendezvous, surprisingly, but the whole episode makes Ruby a completely contemptible character.

What probably surprised me most was the language. In the pages that I read (which was a little over half of the book), I counted eight g--damns, which certainly contributed to my decision to close the book before it was finished.

Setting these impossible-to-ignore flaws aside for a minute, I do want to say that the Author's writing style itself is very good. Her descriptions and use of 1940s slang brings WWII-era Chicago to startling life, vividly depicting the swing and jazz rhythms, the smoke-filled interiors of nightclubs, and the glitz and glamor. It's too bad she chose to populate her story with so much undesirable content.

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