Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
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.
New Orleans is pretty high up on my list of places to travel to, despite the stories of dirt and crime in the city. Josie's New Orleans isn't without dirt and crime of its own, but it has a charming side, too - surprisingly found in a brothel. Sepetys describes the setting well, but the book's real strength lies in its characters.
The characters in this book are downright brilliant. First off, you have the prostitutes. Sepetys doesn't write them as simple, sex-minded women; they're funny, loving, and most definitely not cookie-cutter. The brothel madam, Willie, is just as uniquely imagined. Instead of fitting the stereotype of a cruel and unfeeling boss, Willie is both tough as nails and sweet as pie, acting as a mother figure to Josie. The cast of colorful characters continues, from Sadie, the mute maid, to Cokie, the lovable cab driver, to Josie herself. Josie is my favorite part of this whole book. She's realistically flawed and absolutely lovely, the perfect heroine for a book like Out of the Easy.
The book doesn't have one central plot line, instead, it has a jumble of stories that make up Josie's life. Because of that, it feels much more realistic than a lot of books that focus on just one thing, but it also isn't what a lot of readers would be expecting. From Josie's longing to go to college and escape the Big Easy, to her horrendous mother's troubles with the mob, and a few other plot lines, there's a lot going on in Out of the Easy. Sepetys does a great job of keeping the numerous plots from overwhelming readers. Usual a book with as many plot lines as this would be too all-over-the-place, but in Out of the Easy, it takes the attention of the events and puts it on the characters. More than anything, Out of the Easy is about Josie, and because she's such a great character, it works really well.
The moment I saw that Ruta Sepetys was the author of this book, I knew it was going to be good. The same raw emotion and subtle but powerful prose from Between Shades of Gray is part of Out of the Easy, and although the two books are about very different subjects, they both leave a lasting impression on readers. Those who love historical fiction will devour Sepetys' books, and anyone on the fence about the genre will love it after reading her work.
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