Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

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If there is ever such a thing as a “shock factor,” this novel’s got plenty of it. But before we get into any of that, allow me to do the easy part of the review and copy the description on here:

With her mother ill, it’s up to fifteen-year-old Ruby Jacinski to support her family. But in the 1940s, the only opportunities open to a Polish-American girl from Chicago’s poor Yards is a job in one of the meat packing plants. Through a chance meeting with a local tough, Ruby lands a job as a taxi dancer and soon becomes an expert in the art of “fishing”: working her patrons for meals, cash, clothes, even jewelry. Drawn ever deeper into the world of dance halls, jazz, and the mob, Ruby gradually realizes that the only one who can save her is herself.

I don’t know why I was expecting this to be a quick, average read, but I was. The setup, I guess, made it so it’d be pretty easy to pull your usual trials and tribulations story about a girl living a double-life who then found redemption and yada-yada. So when the novel turned out to be the exact opposite, well...

Ten Cents a Dance opens with Ruby going to this huge-deal dance in her neighborhood. There she meets the bad boy with whom she’ll become inextricably involved and who’ll lead her down many a shaky path. It all stems from that one night in her life, everything that happens in this book, which is what makes me love this beginning. Rarely do I find such a strong opening hook as I found here, and it wasn’t so much as the plot that kept me at the edge of my seat, but rather the strength of the voice. Here’s for the reviewing cliché: Ruby’s voice sings.

Then there’s the premise. I first saw taxi dancing in an episode of Cold Case and it took root in the back of my mind for something I wanted to research a bit more. Then, I up and find this book and it triggered that bit in the back of my mind. Taxi dancing, aside from being fascinating, isn’t widely explored, making this book unique in a conceptual level.

I wish I knew how to describe the storytelling. The rich language and history and the fact vs the fiction are so deftly incorporated into the prose, they made this book extremely authentic. This is historical fiction at its best: transporting people to an era they know little about and not alienating them while also telling a good story. I can’t even begin to imagine the sort of research Christine must’ve conducted in order to get the tone down right. It’s mesmerizing, really.

Try as I might, I can’t do anything but praise this book. It’s easily one of the best I’ve read this year, certainly among the best-written, and one I just can’t imagine anybody doing themselves the disservice of missing.

It’s probably hard to take me seriously when I’ve been fangirling all week, and I don’t know how to make it better because it’s 2:30am and I’m collapsing, so I’ll leave you all with this: Upon finishing, I proclaimed this novel’s greatness at top volume to my best friend Amee for god knows how much time. (Amee, you verify this in the comments section, please.) Last time I did that? It was for My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger. We all know how much I loved that.

Easy A.

Further: To see the author’s guest blog, click here.


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Unknown said...

I'm not Amee, but I can definitely verify that this is one of the few books I've ever seen you excited about (minus the stuff I sent you).

You're the Malcolm Gladwell of reviewers.

B said...

Wow this sounds really interesting. I'll have to check it out. Thanks and great review!

bacarleton [at] gmail [dot] com

Amee said...

Yes Yes Yes. This book is one of the best. Top notch stuff.

ellie_enchanted said...

With such a passionate review, how can I help but want to read it?

Can I just ask, what is the book actually about?

Kimberly Derting said...

You had me at "shock factor". I definitely need this book!!! Thanks!

Steph said...

Haha, the description up there didn't help much? :)

Let me see if I can find something more detailed on Christine's website. I suck at summarizing books which is why I just Don't Do It.

Hmm, no, Christine's is the same as the one I have above. Let me try explaining then...

After Ruby's mom's arthritis gets so bad she can't properly work, Ruby quit school to work at a factory. She makes very little money and works her ass off. On the night she goes to that big-deal dance mentioned in the review, she meets a certain bad boy Paulie who tells her she could make a lot more money working at a taxi dance hall (basically the patrons pay you to dance with them). Her mom's very proper though, so it's not something Ruby could do outright. So she lies to her mom and says she's working as a telemarketer or something like that while she's actually working at this dance hall.

The book basically follows Ruby from the night she meets Paulie all the way until her mom finds out she works there. The voice, characters, historical accuracy, and just overall tone of this novel which as I mentioned above fully transport the person to that time period, all of those make this book fabulous.

I'm 99.9% sure anyone who's a regular here on my blog would love it. Surprised it hasn't received starred reviews because, honestly, all those trade journals are on crack. They'll give Twilight a star but not this?


Anyway :) If Christine comes around, maybe she can explain it better!


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Steph praising a book so much...? WHOAH! lol only kidding, it does sound like a good book though! I'd love to read it now.


jocelyn said...

I ADORED this book! It's amazing. Glad you loved it, too.

Christine Fletcher said...

Here I am! Thanks, Steph, for such a great review--I'm blushing! :)

There was a question what the book is about. It's about how a teenage girl manages to live a double life secret from her family...and how this secret life draws her further and further into the Chicago underworld. Ruby thinks she's got everything figured out, only to discover that she has to choose--which life is she going to follow?

I hope that helps! Thanks again, Steph, and thanks to everyone for the great comments! If anyone has other questions, I'll be checking back...

Anonymous said...

Oooo this sounds like an intresting read! I love the era too! Thanks for the review!

Alessandra said...

Wow, this book sounds fabulous. Plus I love historical novels. Great review!

Khy said...

I want this book so bad. Argh. It's been so long since I've read any good historical fiction, and this seems too good.

Shalonda said...

I want to read this one so bad. I love the fact that it is on a topic we rarely ever hear about. Different is ALWAYS good!

Sarah Woodard said...

This book sounds great.

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced. I've now added this title to my shopping list and will probably nab it early in the new year.

(Late to comment as I'm slowly making my way through the week of awesome.)

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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph