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. A mesmerizing look into a little known world and era.I am very happy that this was a quick read because I hadn't got around to reading it, and it was due back at the library the next day. I tried to renew it and couldn't! That meant that I had to either read it in a day or hope that I could get it again soon. I managed to read it right away because it was a good read. The early to mid part of the twentieth century is something that I find interesting to read about, but this looks at an aspect of the history that I had never really explored before.
The main character in this book is Ruby. Her mother had been working in a meat packing plant, but arthritis was making it so that her hands were useless. The plant managers discovered this and let her go. Ruby's father had died year ago, so it was only her mother keeping the family alive. Now that she couldn't work, it was up to Ruby to quit school and get a job in that same plant. She hated it, though. She dreamed of doing more with her life than working in a plant that shortened its workers life-spans. At a dance club one night she catches the attention of a young man who causes trouble in his wake. He takes a shinning to Ruby and suggests that instead of working in a plant she try out taxi dancing. She was a really good dancer and this job would make her a lot more money. Her mother would never go for it, though. It was not a respectable job for a young lady growing up in 1940's Chicago, but Ruby had to do something. Telling her mother that she was a telephone operator, she launched herself in a career that would wind up being both a good and a bad thing.
I had never really heard of taxi dancing before, so it was interesting to delve deeper into that little-known aspect of history. When the novel starts, the U.S. hadn't joined the war, but Pearl Harbor would occur and things would change for Chicago. This meant that instead of men they normally had showing up at the dance club, they would also have men in uniform. Ruby was really good at her job. She learned very quickly how to get what she wanted out of the men that she entertained, but she has found herself in a very disasterous situation. Things are not always what they seem, and the boy that she thinks she is in love with is more trouble than he is worth. When her mother makes changes in her life so that Ruby can stop working, though, everything comes to a head. Ruby doesn't want to give up her life that easily, but her mother is not taking no for an answer. It's when her unsatisfactory lifestyle creeps into her home-life that she knows she has to make some serious changes to her life.
This book was short-listed for the Cybil Award. I think it is deserving; but then I haven't read all the other books available. It was a really interesting novel, though. Ruby was an interesting character and I enjoyed the secondary characters. Fletcher gives a good taste about what life was like for a Polish-American in the 1940's and how you had to do what you could to survive. I recommend this book!