For this week I am writing about Ruta Sepetys' newest young adult novel, Out of the Easy. Not that long ago I covered her first novel, Between Shades of Grey, and knew I would want to keep up with this writer and see if she would be able to work the same kind of magic with 1950s New Orleans that she did with World War II Europe.
The Situation: To say that Josie Moraine has had a difficult life would be an understatement. To start with, she is the daughter of a prostitute, and everyone knows she is the daughter of a prostitute. But even amongst all of the looks, stares, and whispers, Josie has been able to make her way through school with the highest marks, reads about 150 books a year, can quote random poems and Shakespeare, and has even lived on her own, successfully, since the age of 11. She has graduated high school, held down a job at a local book shop, and earned the favor of her mother's madam, the sharp-tongued Willie Woodley, all while resolving to never become like her mom. Josie has also resolved to get out of New Orleans, and when someone presents her with the idea of applying to an out of state college, a new start in life in a new location doesn't seem like such an unattainable idea.
The Problem: Not only is Josie's mother a prostitute, but her mother also steals from her, tells her she wasted the best years of her life raising her, and also has the worst choice in men. If the guy is obviously trouble, then there is a high chance Josie's mom will become involved with him. And this time, her mother's decisions end up causing Josie to be in trouble as well. Meanwhile, Josie is also negotiating her feelings for two different guys, trying to apply for a college she is almost certain she can't afford, or get into, all while cleaning Willie's house every morning and keeping the customers from thinking that once she's 18, she'll also be entering her mother's line of work. Josie would love nothing more than to leave her life on the French Quarter behind while pursuing a degree at a college on the East Coast. But as more events unfold, it starts to look as if New Orleans doesn't care much for Josie, but it won't let her leave either.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that is also historical fiction. Significant themes include loyalty, class division, segregation, and what it takes to be a real family, whether you're blood related or not. Josie's mother may be absolutely awful to her, but Josie still has a hard time not worrying about her and letting her go completely. Also, while Willie may be trying to keep Josie from leaving New Orleans, she looks out for her in every other way, despite wanting almost nothing to do with her when her mother first arrived with a child in tow. Willie even shares Josie's disapproval of her mother's taste in men and in the way she treats her own daughter. Even so, Josie would love to escape to a college far away from home, preferably in an area that is no longer segregated. But more importantly, Josie wants to go somewhere where she isn't known as the prostitute's daughter.
My Verdict: After reading Between Shades of Grey, I had high hopes for this book, and I wasn't disappointed. This is a fantastic story with wonderful characters. Some you like, some you love, some you don't care for, and others you absolutely hate and can't wait for their exit from the story. Also, the actual story is incredibly well done. This isn't just a story about Josie the prostitute's daughter from the wrong side of the tracks trying to cross over to the other side. There are prostitutes, creepy men, mob bosses, self-righteous social climbers, cute boys, bad boys...I could go on. And books. There is also lots of talk about books, as Josie is a big reader. She can discuss Shakespeare, as I mentioned, Dickens, Keats, Fitzgerald...all of the classics, and even a few modern ones from her time. It is a story that will take you through all of the emotions a few times over, but won't leave you exhausted. Just like with Between Shades of Grey, Sepetys doesn't hold back and it pays off handsomely.
Favorite Moment: When Josie and Willie decide to do some target practice at Willie's cottage out at Shady Grove, a good two to three hours drive from New Orleans. Turns out Josie is a great shot, and Willie is the one who taught her.
Favorite Character: Usually I have a hard time with this because I often don't like any characters, but this time I have the opposite problem. There are many great characters in this book and I am having a hard time settling on just one. Even so, I think I will go with Cokie, Willie's driver. Cokie is a quadroon, which means he is 1/4 black. In 1950s New Orleans this is no small thing. And while Cokie may have a bit of a gambling problem, he loves Josie and takes care of her, and not just because Willie tells him to. He is also one of the biggest criers in the book and isn't ashamed of it.
Recommended Reading: Naturally, I am going to recommend Sepetys' first novel, Between Shades of Grey. It is a completely different sort of book about the mass evacuation of the Baltic States during World War II. It is also told through the voice of a teenage girl, but this story includes a different sort of pain and conflict and suffering. But again, just like Out of the Easy, it is worth it.