Sepetys, Ruta. Out of the Easy. Philomel Books, 2013. 352 p. Grades 8-12. Historical Fiction.
Josie, the daughter of a New Orleans brothel prostitute, longs to escape the Big Easy. While she conspires to get into Smith, the secrets of the French Quarter spill over into her life. A mysterious death involves Josie in the investigation, which tests her loyalty to her mother and Willie, the Madame.
Review: Out of the Easy manages to leave the reader feeling like the book is a happy one, even though there is death, prostitution, the mob, and Alzheimer’s. Josie is a spunky heroine that makes the best of every situation. Her vitality and drive to better herself permeates her situation. From meeting Charlotte when she renamed herself Josephine, to wanting the murdered man to be her father, Josie doesn’t want to stay in the Quarter. During all of the hardships she endures, Josie still has hope. The only hopeless situation she is in is when she is about to sell her body to Mr. Lockwell, and even then her principals led her to take her gun out and point it at him. She is able to come back from this low point with the help of Willie, who has been like a pseudo-mother to her over the years.
Ruta Sepetys brings her usual eloquence to the novel. Her sentence structure varies and reflects the situations that surround Josie. Her characterization of Josie was spectacular. I really felt like I understood why she did things. I understood why she felt torn by her loyalty to her mother and why she held on so strongly to Patrick, Charlie and the bookstore. The only problem I had with the novel was the characterization of Jesse. I felt like his character fell a little flat. All you really ever find out about him is his alcoholic father and that he is an attractive man. It would have been more enjoyable to find out why he was going to college, what he was studying, what his relationship with his grandmother was like and how he felt about the “upper crust” women always chasing him.
This is a book that will resonate with different age groups. Sepetys writes with enough lightheartedness that a younger audience would find it enjoyable, without getting bogged down with the deeper currents of prostitution, mob politics and a terrible mother. Older audiences will appreciate the subtle nuances of Josie’s relationship with her mother and why she can’t let her go until the very end when Willie, who has been a semi-good influence in her life, dies.
**I read an advanced readers copy of this book. Thank you to Philomel Books for providing me a copy at ALA Midwinter**