Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
This is another book that I’ve been dying to read ever since Penguin released its 2013 sampler a few months back. Sepetys’ 2011 novel Between Shades of Gray was an international bestseller and also one of my favorite books I read last year. In other words, Easy had some pretty big shoes to fill in order to live up to readers’ expectations. I’m happy to say that, at least in my opinion, Sepetys succeeded on this note.
Portion of Goodreads.com summary:
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.
Josie is a seventeen-year-old spitfire who is determined to get out of New Orleans and make something better of herself. All in all, she’s not that different from your “typical” YA heroine and the general plot line of escaping someone’s hometown for something more is hardly unique. However, it is the specifics, such as the time period, setting, and cast of quirky characters that give this novel the extra spice that makes it a truly extraordinary story.
Sepetys has a particular talent for “world-building.” From the dialects to the fashion, this book truly transports you to the French Quarter in the 1950s.
As the daughter of a well-known prostitute, Josie’s future in New Orleans is dismal at best. Unfortunately, her lack of wealth and a good reputation threaten to keep her in the Big Easy for good. However, through her determination and spunk, Josie concocts a plan to ensure her acceptance to an upscale college in Massachusetts. Obviously though, nothing is ever that simple.
Despite her desperation for a new life, Josie’s past continues to haunt her even when things seem to take a turn for the better. This story is all about identity and destiny; the skeletons in our closets and how they define us.
This theme carries over to the rest of the characters in the book and Josie is hardly the most interesting of them. Peter, Jesse, Cokie, and especially Willie each have a fascinating backstory to go along with their memorable characters. It might be strange to say, but despite the fact that she is the madam of a brothel, Willie was probably my favorite character.
Sepetys’ only real fault with this book is that it is so enthralling throughout that its ending seems to fall a bit flat. I felt similarly at the end of Between Shades of Gray. It’s not that either book has a bad ending, rather that the endings simply do not pack the punch that the rest of the novel does.
Overall though, this book makes me very excited for what’s to come in 2013. So far, it seems like a great year for quality young adult fiction. Out of the Easy will without a doubt be a favorite of this year. This is definitely a must read for YA-lovers in 2013.
Rating: ★★★★1/2 (out of 5)
Read If You Like: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
180° Opinion: This book contains a host of characters, each more interesting and diverse than the next. However, not all of their stories are fully fledged out in the 300 or so pages of the book. Although this is usually the case in most novels, some of the characters in this book are just so interesting that I wished Sepetys had included a bit more about each of their pasts (and their futures). I’m not sure if you can classify these as “loose ends” since the protagonist’s story is tied up nicely in the end, but I would love to hear the author’s thoughts about what she thinks became of a few of the minor characters of the story.