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Out of the Easy

My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute. 

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’ve been half wanting to read this novel for a while, and I finally checked it out of the library, since I don’t own Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys’s first novel.  I don’t remember much about Between Shades of Gray (other than that I liked it), but Out of the Easy was a great read, and though not quite as high stakes, Josie’s life is still a pretty rough one. She does really need to get out of New Orleans and make a new life for herself. Plus, there’s murder, and Josie is caught up in the investigation, while simultaneously trying to save enough money to leave and hide her secrets.

Sepetys portrays the setting very well, bringing the Quarter with its many dangers to life. The book has a lot of unease in it; Josie has had to endure a lot of taunting at school, but she really wants to learn. Going to college is going to be very difficult though. Her mother is also pretty cruel. Beautiful and cruel. The only time she attends a school function she does so because she hears that the history teacher is attractive, and she wears a coat with nothing underneath, really embarrassing Josie. She doesn’t even show up for her high school graduation, which should be a big deal. I did enjoy the character of Willie, who runs the brothel; however she becomes kind of the stereotype of the kind, generous, if somewhat steely madam. It was a little overdone, I think. As The New York Times Book Review puts it, “Willie and her nieces teeter perilously close to the cliché of the hooker with a heart of gold.” That’s about right. That part of the book was so close to failing; it didn’t, but it was still cliched. You can read the rest of that review here.

The murder happens very quickly, and it’s of someone who’s come to symbolize Josie’s hopes and dreams of getting out of the Quarter and going to college. I really didn’t expect him to be the one killed, and it intrigued me; I wanted to know what he had to do with the Quarter, whether he was really all he seemed to be, and why he was murdered. Also, what Josie’s mother had to do with it. 

I didn’t love the writing in Out of the Easy, but the story was really good. The writing wasn’t quite as compelling as I thought it would be; it felt kind of flat and lifeless, unlike how I vaguely remember Between Shades of Gray. Still, Josie was an interesting and sympathetic character; one really feels for her as she struggles to find a way to leave New Orleans and go to an Eastern college. She’s sick of the life she’s always had, and wants to make a new life for herself. Josie’s incredibly smart, but she’s a little low on experiences besides those of the Quarter. She’s not really sure what to make of some of the wealthier people she meets at a party.

I enjoyed Out of the Easy, although I certainly didn’t love it. It’s certainly worth reading if you enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’s first novel.

346 pages. 

Rating: ****

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