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Last Dance on Holladay Street

Review

Last Dance on Holladay Street

The year is 1878. Freeborn Eva Wilkins arrives in Denver with nothing more than a silver dollar sewn into the hem of her dress and an address written on a slip of paper. The address belongs to her birth mother, Sadie Lewis. It also happens to be the address of a house of ill repute, where her mother works as a prostitute and her sister dances each night for money.

In meeting her mother, Eva has more than one surprise. Raised by Daddy Walter and Mama Kate, slaves freed after the Civil War, she never suspected that her mother is white. Her presence and color cause a stir at the house on Holladay Street, particularly from her half-sister who is jealous of all the attention Eva receives.

Believing she has no other place to go, or other means to earn money, Eva soon finds herself caught up in the life of the bawdy house. She joins her sister Pearl in dancing with men for money. The women have plenty to eat and beautiful clothes to wear. Eva has never known a life of such luxury. But the price for these things is heavy. Eva must withstand the constant pawing of the miners who come to dance with her. It is with horror she learns that the cost of her food and clothing are tallied up against her future earnings. Women who cannot repay the cost of their keep, whether through illness or injury, rack up crippling debt from which they may never emerge.

Remembering the dying words of her beloved guardian, Mama Kate, who told her, "You are the first one in this family born free… Wherever you go, you be proud and strong so it's clear that you know in your bones that you're free --- that nobody better try to push you somewhere you don't want to go…" Eva runs away from the house when the madam decides it's time for Eva to sell her virginity and "work upstairs." Aided by a friendly stationmaster and a series of poor but kindly characters populating the western frontier, Eva finds her freedom and the means to earn an honest living.

LAST DANCE ON HOLLADAY STREET was lovingly researched by the author, who provides references at the end of the book for readers interested in learning more about the time period. Despite the sensational subject matter, this is not a book of graphic depictions of violence or sexuality. Instead, it owes a great deal to nineteenth-century narratives of women overcoming peril through virtue and should appeal to young people who enjoy historical fiction.

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Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on October 18, 2011

Last Dance on Holladay Street
by Elisa Carbone

  • Publication Date: March 8, 2005
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0375828966
  • ISBN-13: 9780375828966