rating: 4 of 5 stars
There ought to be more historical fiction like this. The world of the book – a poor neighborhood in 1940s Chicago – feels meticulously researched yet incredibly gritty and vivid. The description of bottling hogs feet in the meat packing plant is enough, by itself, to pull you into the world. Which is not to say that this is a completely grim and depressing type of historical fiction. The whole story swings back and forth between those ugly details and the sense of possibility that Ruby gets from working as a taxi dancer. And Ruby is completely believable as a character – her world and experiences are limited, and the (often frustrating) choices she makes are realistic in her context. She doesn’t want to dance with the non-white customers at the dance hall, but eventually she sheds some of her racism, not after someone sets her straight but after personally interacting with blacks and Filipinos. It felt refreshing, in a bizarre way, to see a character who is racist due to her limited experiences, not some essential character flaw. And in terms of the choices she makes romantically, you want to shake some sense into her, but you know why she does what she does. The story also has great descriptions of music and dancing and clothes that put you into the period in a really fun way.
I strongly recommend this to teens (and adults) who like historical fiction that isn’t sugar-coated or glamorized, who like a gripping story, or who are interested in 40s music and dance.
Also, the author’s note at the end has some fascinating details about her family history as well as a list of sources, which is always nice to see.