February 8, 2013 by Heidi
Title: Out of the Easy [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Ruta Sepetys [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone.
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Published: February 12th, 2013 by Philomel Books
Format: Hardcover; 348 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley
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’ll admit it, I’ve been too emotionally frightened to pick up Ruta Sepetys’s Between Shades of Gray, but when I saw the blurb for her sophomore novel, Out of the Easy, I knew I had to read it. Josie’s story plucked at my heartstrings in ways I didn’t expect. I found myself for the first time in many many reads to be incredibly stressed out over the choices a character might make. I was so involved in this story, and yet, I found myself avoiding picking it up when we would reach a crossroads because I had so much fear for what was to become of Josie. The best part of Out of the Easy for me was the fact that my fears, though often justified, never took me in the direction I expected. Josie didn’t take the predictable path, nor the easy one, and in the end I came to see that it was the only path she could have taken to come out of the world she so longed to leave.
Out of the Easy represents historical fiction at its finest. It is gritty, real, and full of life in a way that transports you to the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950. Josie comes from a part of town where scandal is just another world for living, and is raised with a very different understanding of morality than many see today. Because Josie is the daughter of a prostitute, she is both open hearted and self loathing. She wants so badly to be seen as someone who is respectable, while at the same time having the utmost respect for characters uptown society would scoff at. Sepetys gives us a character in whose mind race, occupation, and sexuality don’t define who you are, despite our knowledge that these factors could very much determine your potential fates in the given place and time.
While it can be easily assumed that Out of the Easy is about Josie’s getting out of New Orleans, I loved Sepetys’s subtle layering of the story that leads us to that point. Josie desires to get away from her past and become someone new, someone unattached to the stigma of her mother, and yet it couldn’t be a cut and dry ambition. As much as I wanted to see Josie succeed in becoming her own person, it was impossible to imagine her leaving all of these characters in the French Quarter. I’m ashamed to say at points I felt I was actively rooting against her because I couldn’t give up her past, and was terrified that she would be rejected elsewhere, she just seemed so innocent despite her past. I should have realized how strong of a character I was dealing with–Josie would one-up me in street smarts any day.
It should come as no surprise then that Josie wasn’t a character I loved immediately, rather, she was one who earned her status. I was constantly on edge, decrying her bad decisions, not wanting to acknowledge that as smart as she is, she really doesn’t know any better. Josie let’s men treat her like an object because that’s how the women in her world are treated. She’ll defiantly strong arm them, but only so far, and at the end of the day I was never quite sure who might win.
That said, nothing in the Quarter is black and white. Not all men are lecherous creeps, and not all women are selfish and cruel. Out of the Easy is colored with a rich cast of characters, all of whom are flushed out in their influence and connection with Josie. When those who love Josie look at her, they don’t see the cloud of shame she believes is hanging over her, they see a young woman who is capable, clever, and street smart. The friendships in Out of the Easy span across years demonstrating the reality that family often has little to do with genetics. The romance is patient and subtle, steady but without pressure or angst. And as real as these support structures are, so are those that would tear them down. Josie’s mother is a hateful creature that Out of the Easy asks us to pity more than despise, but it is so hard to see her drowning with such a firm grasp on her daughter that she will pull Josie under as well.
I had only very minor issues with the story, but they bothered me enough to stop me from completely falling head over heals. For example, I was unable to really understand Josie’s obsession with the tourist Forest Hearne who she makes into a father figure. Her obsession becomes more understandable as the story goes on, but initially I didn’t feel as if there was a real base for it–I would have liked to see it grow from events rather than precede them. I was also confused as to why some of Josie’s past experiences with Cincinnati (her mother’s boyfriend) were revealed so late in the game when they explained better than anything who he was and how Josie felt about him.
Regardless of these very minor issues, I found Out of the Easy to be a character-driven historical so real that it will easily grab the hearts of readers. It is expertly written with a beautifully rendered plot that manages to be both quiet and gripping. Certainly fans of Sepetys’s debut work will not be disappointed.
Willie said normal was boring and that I should be grateful that I had a touch of spice. She said no one cared about boring people, and when they died, they were forgotten, like something that slips behind the dresser. Sometimes I wanted to slip behind the dresser. Being normal sounded perfectly wonderful.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Obviously I need to get with the rest of the world and read Sepetys’s Between Shades of Grey already. Honestly, I’ve been afraid of that book because emotion scares me, but after Out of the Easy I very much want to read it.
Recommended for: Readers who enjoyed Code Name Verity, or other character-driven historical fiction with unlikely friendships.
Get a second opinion:
The Flyleaf Review – “Do you think history and historical fiction is boring and stuffy? Ha! Not the way Ruta Sepetys tells it.”
Great Imaginations – “If you like really strong characters, I think you will enjoy the novel. But if you are looking for a plot that keeps you turning pages late into the night, I’d give this one a pass.”
Wrapped Up In Books – “I hope Ruta Septys goes on writing more rich historical fiction with flawed but compelling characters.”
A Reader of Fictions – “Sepetys’ sophomore novel shines just as much as her debut.”