This book was a 2008 Cybils YA finalist.
Ruby Jacinski is just fifteen years old, but in 1940s Chicago, that's old enough to drop out of school and work in a meat-packing plant when her mother is too ill to keep doing it herself. But it barely makes enough money to support the family, which consists of Ruby, her sister, and their mother. As they fall deeper into debt, Ruby runs into the notorious Paulie Suelze, who's a bit older with that bad-boy appeal. Everyone says he's no good, so of course, Ruby is intrigued that he seems interested in her.
And when he tells her about a job opportunity that will net her enough money to support her family with plenty to spare, Ruby doesn't feel like she has any other option. Being a taxi dancer at a local dance hall--dancing with men for money, half of which she gets to keep--isn't exactly considered respectable. But the job has its perks: customers might tip extra, give her jewelry, buy her meals after hours and take her out on the town. Some even become "fish" who regularly supply their favorite dancers with money or after-hours dining and dancing.
Of course, the job also has its risks--jealous coworkers, aching feet, and customers who expect something more than just a dance and a conversation. And then there's Paulie. What does he expect from Ruby in return for the favor of finding her the job? This is a lively story full of color and authenticity and the flavor of 1940s Chicago, as well as the story of Ruby learning to make her own decisions and get herself into--and out of--trouble. Likeable side characters such as Oscar the saxophonist and Manny and Alonzo, the Filipino customers who regularly visit the dance hall, show the racism of the time without being preachy. However, it's Ruby's adventures that really bring the story to life. An excellent read, despite the somewhat tidy ending.
Buy Ten Cents a Dance from an independent bookstore near you! And don't miss the Cybils love on the author's blog! Woo hoo!