Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

26

February 8, 2013 by Heidi

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys book coverTitle: 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 Verityor 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.”

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26 comments »

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Heidi! I’m really excited to read it and Josie sounds like a character who truly came alive. It seems as if this is very different from Ruta’s debut, both because of the subject matter and also because BSoG can tend to read as a historical novel in parts more than a fiction story. I’m really looking forward to this more heightened novel format in this historical story and also the setting which is so unique. I love that so many aspects of society are well explored as well so you’ve made me extremely eager to get my hands on this soon!(: Wonderful review, Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      I really see you loving this on, Keertana! This one definitely skews more toward the fiction story and less the historical–there are aspects of the story that mean that it couldn’t have been set in another time or place, but it’s so character driven.

  2. You were emtionally frightened?! Hey, that’s MY thing! I guess I was right to pre-order this one. And you HAVE to read Between Shades of Gray asap. I adore that book.
    Fantastic review, Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      Haha, I promise I will read it! I actually really want to now. I just get so gun shy with heavy books, it takes a lot out of me to work up to reading them.

  3. kit says:

    I really like the sound of the New Orleans setting (in fact this has given me an idea for a birthday present for a friend of mine who loves the city). Great review – I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but I’m hoping this one will pop up in the library at some point in the future!

    • Heidi says:

      Hehe, this would be the PERFECT birthday present for a New Orleans lover! This is one historical that I think a lot of contemporary fans will enjoy–it’s so character driven.

  4. Chachic says:

    It’s not that emotion scares me, I love being invested in a book to the point that I feel like I’m part of the story. It’s just that for emotionally heavy novels, I feel like I have to prepare myself before I start reading them. It looks like I need to find a copy of this so I can read it as soon as I can. Both you and Holly loved it.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, exactly, I have to be in the right mind frame to be able to handle emotionally heavy novels, or I’ll just never get through them. This one’s fantastic, Chachic!

  5. This:

    “As must 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.”

    YES. I definitely like what you had to say about all the subtle layers, I totally agree. But for me this book was ALL about the characters. I loved how open Cokie and Jesse were but I also loved how complex Josie, Patrick and Willie were. Such an amazing collection of voices in this book:)

    And I REALLY need to read Between Shades of Gray too. I have held off for all the same reasons you have but I need to get over it and just read it already:)

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, yes, yes, I love ALL of these characters so much. OMG, my heart completely broke for Patrick, and I love Josie for not really blinking twice once she finally figures things out, and I love how Jesse can just be silent with her and that makes her want to tell him everything. KILLS ME.

  6. Glad you enjoyed this one! I’m the same way, and have been hesitant to read Between Shades of Gray, because I need to be in the right headspace to handle it, I think. I agree with some of the details that didn’t work for you, but overall thought this was fantastic.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes, it was fantastic, and the good really overshadows the teeny tiny nit picking that I had with this one…when tiny details are all I have to complain about, it’s a good thing. I’m really excited for Between Shades of Gray now!

  7. I loved Code Name Verity, so I definitely plan on reading Out of the Easy at some point. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a dearth of good YA historical fiction out there? I’m not in love with the idea of it being set in New Orleans, but I think that setting and time period could grow on me as I read the book. Unlike you, I actually really want to read Between Shades of Gray, so I’ll probably start with that Sepetys book first, but I’ll make sure to read this one too some point soon! Wonderful review, Heidi, and I’m glad you enjoyed overall!

    • Heidi says:

      I am LOVING the good YA historical fiction. Please point out more to me when you come across it. I really want to read Between Shades of Gray now too, but I’m glad I read this one first to make me less nervous about it!

  8. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed this book, Heidi! I love historical fiction, so I’ve definitely been looking forward to reading this one once it’s released. And don’t be scared of Between Shades of Grey! I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I was emotionally traumatized. But that might be because I’m not super emotional when reader. So now I want you to read it so I can find out if you do feel all the emotions!

    Despite the few things that bothered you about this one, I’m excited to read this at some point. I honestly can’t think of a single book I’ve read that sounds similar to this and that really excites me!

    • Heidi says:

      I really think this is one you’d enjoy, Hannah! I could totally imagine seeing it on your blog. I really do want to read Between Shades of Gray now, falling in love with this one so much has me less gun shy of what’s to come with her debut. I’m not a super emotional reader either, actually, so we’ll see how that goes! The fact that Out of the Easy was so different than anything I’d read before is what really made it for me–I loved how original it was!

  9. Thank you for linking to my review, Heidi!

    I really loved the way you described Josie’s character. I really wished I had the ability to be that descriptive when it comes to characters. Your reviews are great at this. And I must say that I agree with you. I loved the characters in this novel. I thought the plot could have used a little more direction, and I wasn’t sold on the atmosphere of New Orleans (I thought the writing was a little too telling for my taste), but I still thought it was a really solid effort.

    • Heidi says:

      Of course, Kara!

      I’m glad that you connected with the characters in this one, even if you weren’t completely sold on the plot or setting. I loved the plot because for me, it wasn’t expected, and I love when I can’t guess where a book is going. I really liked the setting, but in a way, the characters almost were the setting in this one–more so than New Orleans itself.

  10. Reynje says:

    I’m really looking forward to this one. I loved Between Shades of Gray and I was keen to see what the author would write next.. Anyway, your review makes me even more excited, it definitely sounds like my kind of book. I love character driven story. Lovely review!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Reynje! This book was wonderful, I loved it, and the more I think about it, the more I know it’s earned a special place on the shelf for 2013 reads. I really do want to read Between Shades of Gray now!

  11. I’m really looking forward to this one. I love the idea of the 1950s New Orleans setting!

  12. I love a historical fiction, especially with vibrant characters who don’t always do what you’d expect. I am hoping to get my hands on this book soon, because I keep hearing amazing things. I haven’t read Between Shades of Grey for the exact same reason, but I do plan on working my way up to it sometime soon. This is a lovely review, and it makes me even more excited for this book.

    • Heidi says:

      Yes! You will love this one, Lauren. I LOVE that Josie’s unpredictable, and this whole story is so rich in setting and character that I absolutely fell into it.

  13. Jamie says:

    I really enjoyed this one a lot and just loved the characters so much! I also agree, though I didn’t initial think about this when I was reading/writing my review, that her fixation on him did see to have very little basis and yeah..I really was kind of confused about Cincinnati. Like we knew something was bad between them but it kind of felt built up a little bit that I expected something that was like done to HER. I wanted to punch him for what he did to that character though. WAH.

    I loved how every character really did seem so vivid — like even the people she goes and sits in the car with at night out in the country. I honestly could just picture them.

    So for BSAG (you know that’s one of my faves right??)..it’s SO DIFFERENT. BSAG is an emotional gut punch. It feels way more of the HISTORICAL aspect than you get in Out of the Easy but still with an amazingggg story and host of characters. Have tissues on hand, lady, but read it! I really learned something I didn’t know very much about (really I only had learned about what was going on in Germany in school).

    • Heidi says:

      YES–every character had depth, even those that were only mentioned and not really in the story. I love those people who sit in their car at night, and that they let this girl sleep in their back seat so that she’s not alone. Such an interesting way of dealing with life.

      I HATE EMOTIONAL GUT PUNCHES! Hehe, so scared of that book, but I swear I’ll get to it eventually.

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