Growing up as the daughter of a New Orleans prostitute hasn’t been easy, and Josie Moraine longs to leave the Crescent City and attend college on the East Coast. Unfortunately, her careful plans begin to unravel when she becomes caught up in a murder investigation that threatens her tenuous relationship with her mother, the bond she has with the madam Willi Woodley, and ultimately, her life. Set in the New Orleans of 1950, Sepetys’ second historical novel sumptuously brings to life the contradictions, beauty, seediness, and conflicts of the Big Easy.
Thoughts– I bought this book a while ago after hearing rave reviews from my friends who got an ARC of it at TLA, but I’d been unable to read it because of the Printz Award project I worked on during the second half of the spring semester (Note–when you decide to read all of the Printz winners, be prepared to read until your eyes cross). It was definitely worth the wait. There were many things I loved about Out of the Easy, particularly the setting, characterization, and optimism of Sepetys’ story. For me, everything came together into a great package with an ending that seemed satisfying (unlike so many of the series novels in YA right now) and yet left a tiny door open for a sequel (we can only hope!). Of course, Josie would be in college in a sequel, so that would make it “New Adult,” right? Whatever that is…but I digress.
The specificity of the setting held me from page one; obviously, Sepetys did her research, and she does an amazing job evoking 1950 New Orleans with her careful attention to detail (LOVED all the descriptions of clothing!) and the references to particular places. If you weren’t familiar with New Orleans before reading this book, you would be afterward…or at least with the city in 1950. The intricate feel of the book also extends to the characterization–each character introduced seems authentic and intriguing; I’d love to read more about the other women working for Willi, Willi herself, Josie’s romantic interest Jesse, her close friend and fellow bookstore employee Patrick, even the gangsters Josie’s mother runs with. Sepetys gives all of these characters distinct features, personalities, and desires, and I felt like she was committed to honoring even the small subplots built into her story with grace and a deft hand.
I think (especially because I’ve been trying to read palate-cleansers after the darkness of the Printz winners) that the thing I appreciated the most about this book was its optimism. Josie is in a difficult situation –her life has been filled with ugly things than many children do not have to experience–but she remains hopeful that she can be more than what people expect of her. She forges ahead with her plans for college, sometimes using just her sheer force of will, and in the end, she gets what she’s striving for, a chance to change her circumstances and her life. I really liked the hopeful note the book ended on, even with some of the disappointments Josie faces. It felt honest and true to me, AND it left a smile on my face. I look forward to catching up with Ruta Sepetys’ other book, Between Shades of Gray, and to seeing what else she has in store for her readers as the years go on.