Written by: Ruta Sepetys
Published: February 23, 2013 by Philomel (Penguin Group)
Synopsis: It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.
Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
I'm apparently reading Ruta's books backwards. I read Salt to the the Sea a few years ago when it came out and I loved it so much that I wanted to read her other books. But even though I've had copies for awhile now, I only just got around to reading this one. But either way, I really liked this one. It's a great piece of historical fiction wit fantastic characters.
One of the things that first struck me about this book is the characters. Ruta definitely knows how to create characters that are easy to root for. For one thing, they are the kind of people who are strong in the face of adversity. Josie is definitely that kind of person. She has not had an easy life and has had to fight for everything that she has but it has made her strong, resilient, and kind. But I think where this book really shines is with the secondary characters. There are so many fantastic characters from all different walks of life. There are other similar characters to Josie who are kind and supportive friends like Cokie and James. Then there are characters who were more like antagonists like Josie's mother and Mr. Lockwell who were really terrible people who I wanted to get their comeuppance. But that's what made them so interesting. They were the kind of characters you love to hate. There were also characters who walked more of a grey area like Willie. You wouldn't expect a brothel madame to be sympathetic but she was.
One reason that I think the characters were so compelling is that so much of this book was really about found family. It's not an uncommon concept to find in books, the idea that you can find love and support from the people you choose rather than the people who you are thrust in with. This was most obvious with the relationship Josie had with her mother. We joke about absent parents in YA all the time but that was completely true here. Josie's mom was almost never around and when she was, she was ruining her daughter's life. Their interactions were heartbreaking and compelling. In contrast, Willie was much more of a mother figure to Josie. It made for an engaging read and added a lot to the characterizations.
Another thing I really loved about this book was the setting. This book takes you to New Orleans in the 1950's and I ate up every second of it. One thing I really liked about the setting is that it didn't shy away from some of the more tawdry elements of the time. It was a pretty gritty setting to be in a brothel and the book handled that with care and subtly while still addressing it head on. It also dealt with the seedy underworld but in a beautiful city. Having just visited New Orleans I loved being able to read a book that took place there. I could perfectly visualize the French Quarter and it's architecture and the sprawling mansions of the Garden District. The city definitely came alive with her writing and I was glad to revisit a place I loved visiting.
But there was also a lot to love when it came t the historical aspect of this story. What I really enjoyed about this book is that it addressed some popular themes about books set in the 1950's but it did it in a more subtle and obscure way. I was a time of change for a lot of different social groups, especially women and you really see Josie grappling with that as she struggles to get out of New Orleans and attend college. But there was also a lot of old-fashioned ideas that the book dealt with that seem just as topical today when it comes to the treatment of women. It was interesting to read and added a unique layer to the story that I really enjoyed.
My only criticism is with the pacing of the book. There was a lot that happened throughout the book. A lot really terrible things, and things that had me completely on the edge of my seat worried about what was going to happen next. I felt like it was really building to something and then it just kind of fizzled out. Now don't get me wrong, there was a conclusion, it just didn't feel like the appropriately sized conclusion for the rising action. Not to mention there was almost no falling action. Plus there was something that felt like an epilogue just shoved into the last chapter. I felt like there was just something missing at the end. But maybe that's just me.
All in all, Out of the Easy was a great read. A fantastic piece of historical fiction that is solidifying my enjoyment of Ruta Sepetys as a writer. She does what I love about the genre and takes uncommon events in popular time periods and brings them to life with compelling characters. That is exactly what this book did.
I give Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys 9.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read Out of the Easy? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!