Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (2013)

It's 1950, and all 17-year-old Josie Moraine wants is to get out of New Orleans. Her mother is a prostitute at a nearby brothel, where Josie works as a maid, and Josie lives in a room over a bookstore where she also works. She is well looked-after by Willie, the madam at the brothel, and her driver Cokie, and has some good friends like Patrick, the book shop owner's son. When she meets a young woman named Charlotte who attends Smith College, Josie sets her sights on entry to the prestigious school. But with her background, how will she ever get the recommendations, not to mention the tuition money, that she needs? Further complicating her situation, a criminal named Cincinnati, who is involved with Josie's mother, has just returned to town and they threaten to drag Josie into their world of crime and keep her from her dreams.

Although this was written for teens, it's a great crossover novel, with its sophisticated writing and a story sure to appeal to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. There were times I had to remind myself that it was written for teenagers, especially when the prostitutes talked shop. It wasn't graphic, and Josie wasn't allowed in the brothel in the evening so she didn't witness the goings-on, but there was plenty of rough talk.

Josie was easy to sympathize with and to root for. There were a couple of times I wanted to implore her to understand something she just wasn't getting, or to take a different action than she was, but she was a teenager after all and honestly was probably handling everything better than most people her age would. She was tough - she carried a pistol strapped under her skirt and she knew how to use it - but was awkward with romance. She knew a lot about the seedy side of life, but little about how to get herself accepted at Smith. It would have been all too easy to end up at the brothel like her mother. But she was determined to avoid that.

Despite her mother's terrible parenting, Josie was surrounded by people who cared about her and wanted a different life for her as much as she did. I was touched by the affection Cokie showed towards Josie, and the loyalty of her friends Patrick and Jesse, and especially Willie. She even had good relationships with some of the prostitutes. As much as she didn't want to end up like them, she didn't look down on them either. On top of her goal of getting an education, the importance of friendship and loyalty also made her a very different person from her mother.

Out of the Easy has a similar feel to Ten Cents a Dance and The Girl Is Murder, both of which take place in the 1940s. If you like any of them I recommend trying the others. Ruta Sepetys continues to prove herself with this second really excellent novel. Her first, Between Shades of Gray, was a very different story but also historical and well written with a strong main character. I'll be eagerly awaiting her next novel which, according to Goodreads, should come out sometime in 2014.

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