Last Dance on Holladay Street
Eva makes it to Denver but finds out that things are much worse than she could ever have imagined. Her mother is alive and well (and she even has a sister), but her mother works in a 'house if ill-repute.' The Wilkins raised her to be a god-fearing, hard-working farm girl and for the first time, Eva is thrown into a den of debauchery.
At first, things don't seem so bad to Eva. She's shocked at her mother's profession, but the table has more food on it than she's ever seen and everyone is dressed in fine clothes. Miss B, the lady that runs the house, even buys a fancy new dress for her.
But Eva finds out that everything Miss B. hands out comes at a price. The food on the table, the room to sleep in at night, the fancy new dress&all it tabulated into an account meticulously kept by Miss B. Her mother and sister are so far in debt to Miss B. that they can never leave and Eva suspects the same to be true of the other ladies that share the house. And now Eva herself is trapped.
Miss B. makes her wear her fancy dress in the dancehall, where she has to put up with horrible smelling men groping her while she dances with them for a quarter. Pearl, her sister, also works the dancehall. It's bad, but moderately bearable and Eva has no idea what else to do.
Then Miss B. decides that the girls are old enough to go to work upstairs. Sadie, their mother, is fully against it, as is Pearl and Eva. When Miss B. steals their outside clothes so they can't escape, Pearl vows to scratch any man's eyes out that tries anything with her and Eva resolves to run away, no matter what. She takes a curtain and wraps it around herself and runs to the one friend she made in town: Mr. Stonewall, an aging black man that attends to the train station.
He helps her out and Eva tries to find a way to get to Mrs. Santini, a former kindly neighbor who had moved farther out west. Along the way, she's attacked by a mountain lion and helped out by a family in a small town. But she soon finds herself back in Denver.
Sadie and Pearl, having defied Miss B., now find themselves stuck in jail (from a house raid, where they normally would have been bailed out). Eva is determined to get them out and forge a new life for her whole family.
While I was reading this book, my husband asked me what it was about. I gave him the quick summary and he was appalled. "How depressing!" he said. While there definitely are some sad moments, overall the story is a somewhat happy one, as Eva manages to overcome all the difficulties in her way through perseverance and bravery. She is a strong character and a great role model. Historically, the only really sad note is that so many girls back then were not as strong as she was.
I recommend this book for ages 12 and up. It would be a good book (though perhaps a tad controversial in some areas) to use in class discussions of frontier life as well.
After her loving adoptive parents die, thirteen-year-old Eva travels to Denver to meet the mother who gave her up as an infant. What she finds is unexpected, as both her mother (Sadie) and older sister (Pearl) are white, and are working at a house on Holladay Street-- Pearl as a dancer, and Sadie as a prostitute. Eva, too, is expected to become a dancer if she wants to stay, but she draws the line when she and Pearl are asked to go "upstairs." Eva leaves, hoping to find a safe haven for herself, and perhaps her family too. But in the end, she's right back where she started-- until she has an idea...
This is a well-plotted problem novel with a likable protagonist and an interesting old west setting. My main problem with it was that it didn't take these assets further. The unique relationship between Eva and Sadie is never explored, and the happily-ever-after ending comes, if not too easily, than at least too quickly. This could have been a great novel if Carbone had chosen to dig deeper into her characters; as it is, it's a decent but formulaic read with little substance.