Last Dance on Holladay Street Study Guide

Last Dance on Hollady Street
Last Dance on Holladay Street

by Elisa Carbone

About the book:

The year is 1878, and thirteen-year-old Eva Wilkins has lost all the family she’s ever known. With Mama Kate and Daddy Walter both gone now, Eva feels like an orphan—but she’s not. Sadie Lewis, the woman who gave her up at birth, is alive and well in Denver. Eva sets out to find her, carrying only an address on a slip of paper. But when she reaches 518 Holladay Street, she discovers Sadie Lewis’s shocking secret—a secret that lands Eva in a house of ill repute, forced to dance with strangers for her keep. In this rough new world, the necessities of life come at a price-but is it a price Eva is willing to pay?   

About the guide:

This guide includes discussion questions and projects appropriate for classrooms, book clubs, literature circles, and other discussion groups. It is intended to provoke thought and insight into the themes of this book which include self esteem, parent relationships, freedom, defining one’s standards, friendship, and meaningful work.

Author Interview:

Q: What got you started writing books for young people?

A: I felt as though I had something to say to young people -- I wanted to encourage them to follow their dreams, find the courage inside of them, believe in themselves -- and I felt that presenting those kinds of messages within the pages of exciting novels was the best way to reach out to young readers.

Q: LAST DANCE ON HOLLADAY STREET is a story for young readers almost entirely set in a brothel. What inspired you to write this story?

A: When I first learned about the brothels in the 1800's and how young women and girls were coerced and pressured into working there, I was struck by the parallels with what is going on today, with young girls often being pressured into sexual activity when they are much too young. I wanted to write a story that would be empowering to young readers, that would help them see the value in sticking up for themselves, being strong and being true to themselves, and most importantly, NOT giving in to peer pressure.

Q: What similarities and differences do you see for young people growing up today vs. the time in which LAST DANCE is set?

A: The question for young people faced with social, economic, or other pressures, then and now, is the same: do I sell myself out or look for a better way? Do I follow the path I seem to be forced into, or do I stay strong and follow my *own* path? Young people are still strong, still resilient, and still resourceful. That's why they are inspiring to write for.

Q: What are you trying to communicate to your readers in LAST DANCE ON HOLLADAY STREET?

A: I have embedded several messages in this story, all around self esteem issues, which young people are dealing with at this age:

Q: You do a lot of research for your novels. Can you talk a bit about your research methods?

A: I do the usual book, article and photo research, though I focus mostly on original sources rather than secondary sources because they have more life to them. Also, I'm an experiential learner, so I use a lot of fun research methods to help make the story come alive for me. For Last Dance on Holladay Street, I got a private tour of a Colorado silver mine (because one of the characters is a miner). I rode a narrow gauge railroad train up into the Rocky Mountains the way Eva did. I even got to touch an old fashioned curling iron (tongs that were placed into a kerosene lamp to heat up) in a museum, and this inspired me to add a scene where Lucille is talking to Eva while curling her hair for her evening's work (the scene includes the smell of burning hair -- those curling irons were hard to regulate!). I find that if I can touch and experience the things my characters did, I will discover the details that will make the story vivid for my readers.



What do you know about the west during the late 1800’s? What were things like for women? For former slaves? How did people earn their living? What do you think would be the most difficult aspect of surviving during this rough and tumble age?

Comprehension Check:

1. Why must Eva leave her home and set out for Denver?

2. Describe Denver in the 1870’s.

3. Who comes to Eva’s aid in Denver?

4. Compare Eva’s life on the farm to that on Holladay Street.

5. In the end, how does Eva solve her problems?

Discussion Guide:

1. How would you describe Eva? How has she been raised? What does Mama Kate expect of her? What does she expect of herself?

2. How did Eva come to lose both Daddy Walter and Mama Kate?  What type of relationship did Eva have with them? How did she come to live with them?

3. Who is Mrs. Santini? What does she teach Eva? How does this help her in the long run? What does she notice about her own and Mrs. Santini’s complexion? Why is this important to her?

4. Throughout the rest of the novel Eva talks to Mama Kate, almost like a prayer. How does this help her? How does it influence her decisions?

5. In what circumstances does Eva come to meet Mr. Stonewall? What do you think Zeke Stauder had in mind for Eva? Do you think this still happens today? How does Mr. Stonewall help Eva? Have you ever had an adult who was not your parent mentor you like Mr. Stonewall did for Eva? What does she learn from him?

6. When Eva learns what type of house 518 Holladay Street is, what does she do? What would you have done? What choices did she have?

7. How does the economy of the brothel work? Do you think it is a fair economy? Would you have felt indebted to Miss B like Eva did? What power does Miss B have?

8. At first Eva is excited by the new clothes, abundance of food, makeup and jewelry. How does dancing turn out to be not what she expected? Is it a slippery slope toward working upstairs? Why or why not? Would you be willing to dance on Holladay Street (or want a sister to?)

9. Many of the women and girls tell the story of how they came to work at 518 Holladay Street. What were some of their circumstances? Do you think they had other options that they didn’t consider? Are they simply making excuses or is there ever someone who simply must turn to prostitution to survive? Why or why not? Do you think these same issues apply to young women today?

10. Would you describe Eva as having high self-esteem? What about Pearl? And Sadie? Do you think a girl or woman with high self esteem would ever be convinced to work in a brothel? Why or why not? How can a girl develop a strong sense of self? Do you think it is easier or more difficult in modern times than it was back in Eva’s time?

11. Describe how Eva escapes. What is she wearing? Why? What options does she have? Would you have been so bold to act in this way? What would you have done?

12. Why does Eva allow the Flanagan adults to believe she’s an immigrant? Why does she fear she would be put out on the street otherwise? How do the Flanagans treat Eva? What do they do for her? What happens on the mountain? Why don’t they just let Eva stay permanently with them? Were you surprised by this?

13. Would you have run from the orphanage representative too? Why or why not? What would life in the orphanage be like?

14. Where are Sadie and Pearl when Eva gets back to Denver? Why? How does Eva get Miss B to bail them out? What do the three do to change their own circumstances?

15.  Read the author’s note at the end of the novel. What did you learn from the author that you were surprised by? Why do you think she decided to write this story?


Language Arts:

Choose one of the characters: Eva or Mr. Stonewall, and create five pieces of writing as that character from the following time periods: Before the opening of the novel, after they learn about 518 Holladay Street, while Eva is in the mountains, when the eating house has just opened, and two years after the close of the novel. You may write letters, poems, journal entries, or even a scene from a play.


Research one of the topics mentioned in the story. Create a PowerPoint presentation, web site design or pamphlet about what you learned. Some topics (or get one approved before starting):

Visual Art:

Design a scene for the play adaptation of Last Dance on Holladay Street. You may use technology or old fashioned methods to bring your plan to life. Be as historically accurate as possible.

This guide was created by Tracie Vaughn, a reading specialist and author of the book Sketches from a Spy Tree. Visit her website and find dozens of other guides to children’s literature.