Out of the Easy Featured
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.
What I Loved:
There's so much to love about this book that I hardly know where to start. The entire reading experience was like I'd hopped in the Tardis and traveled back to New Orleans, circa 1950. Every single detail of the setting and the world was flawless, from the language to the customs to the little details that vividly painted a picture of the Big Easy in 1950. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's world building and wish I had another book set in the same time period so I could continue to live there in my imagination for awhile.
The characters are another strong point in the book. Every character, even the secondary ones, come right off the page. I really loved the attention to little details and unique characteristics that worked to bring each character to life. And I really loved Josie, the heroine. She's a flawed, smart, strong character with a big heart and an inability to see herself clearly. She has goals that transcend her upbringing, and she rises above the tremendous obstacles her neglectful mother keeps putting in her path. Because of Josie's internal journey, this story became much more about the triumph of loyalty and integrity than about a murder mystery.
Finally, I just loved the writing. Fluid prose, vivid details worked seamlessly into a narrative that flowed easily, and a pace that gave me enough tension to keep me reading but didn't forget to include the emotional heart of the story make this book one I'll be putting on my favorites shelf.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Very little, really. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I will say (not as a criticism, but as a way to help the right reader find the right book) that the world of Willie's brothel and one difficult situation Josie finds herself in with one of the older men in the story should be taken into consideration before handing this book off to a younger reader whose reading level matches YA, but who might not be ready to process those sort of experiences. I found even the most upsetting themes to be handled with discretion, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book to eighth grade and up.
With lush historical detail, fascinating characters, and a dark, heartbreaking journey that ends on a lovely hopeful note, OUT OF THE EASY is a story worth reading time and time again.
Sepetys Delivers Once Again
What I Loved:
Yet again, Sepetys writes about a section of history oft-ignored in YA fiction, and, really, fiction in general. Set in New Orleans in 1950, Sepetys focuses on the city's seedy underbelly and the colorful characters that inhabit it. So much of our idea of the 1950s comes from television shows, but Out of the Easy is nothing like those. Her depictions of historical periods, accurate and so well-drawn you feel like you're there, are my very favorite part of her fiction.
Now, I know historical fiction scares some readers, but, if you were considering branching out, Sepetys' would be a really great choice. The time period isn't too far removed from our own for one thing. Perhaps more importantly, Sepetys sets the scene so well that it feels like a contemporary. You're seeing through Josie's eyes and this is your world.
So much of YA fiction focuses on well-off characters, and I love that more books are starting to come out that deal with characters in straitened circumstances. Jo's mother works as a prostitute, and, from a young age, Jo has essentially taken care of herself, earning money working in a bookstore and cleaning the whorehouse. Jo has so much strength, and works so hard everyday all for the hope of something better in her future, even though she cannot really grasp what that might be.
The central theme of the novel deals with the mother-daughter relationship, between both her actual mother, Louise, and the woman who's perhaps had more influence on her coming of age, Willie, the madam of the house. Louise gives Jo just enough affection to keep her useful, but does not actually care for her at all. Jo has so much promise, obviously worlds more intelligent than Louise, but Jo wants so much to please her mother. This often works to Jo's detriment, her mother taking advantage again and again.
Willie, on the other hand, appears at first to be a villainous figure. Certainly, she has a temper and lashes out a lot, but her bark is worse than her bite. She loves Jo, in her own messed up way, and really has her back when the chips are down. Their relationship speaks to the way families you build can be so much stronger than those you're born into. Sepetys also depicts all of the prostitutes in such a fair light, not endorsing the lifestyle but not condemning them for it either.
Unlike most YA, Sepetys spends little time on romance, focusing more on world building and characterization. What romance there is I found quite satisfying, but I'm glad Sepetys keeps it to a minimum. The ending, with the bit of romance, adds a hopeful feel to an otherwise quite bleak novel, and, while I normally kvetch about such things seeming too optimistic, I think it really fits here.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Sepetys' use of the word spicy was a bit odd. I know how ridiculous that sounds. Josie describes Jesse's hair as spicy, and much later uses the same descriptor about Willie in a childhood photograph. While I get what she meant in the latter instance, I really don't in the former. This threw me out of the narration in both instances, because it didn't really fit the flow of Jo's narrative. However, that's just two words, which could be changed before publication, since I read an ARC.
The Final Verdict:
Sepetys' sophomore novel shines just as much as her debut. I expect that Out of the Easy will be one of those books I will love more on a reread than I already do. It's a safe bet to say that I will read anything Sepetys writes.
Brilliant setting, lacking in characterization
When you read a book by an author whose writing you’ve already experienced before, you automatically have expectations. As a reader who found Ruta Sepetys’s debut novel to be a mostly mediocre attempt, I think my expectations for Out of the Easy were kept realistically low. I already knew that I found her prose to be enjoyable but not spectacular, that her characters tended to be (in my opinion) rather flat. I was pretty sure that if I wound up loving this book, it would be because of vivid setting and engaging plot. All in all, I think that particular set of expectations was well-founded and served me well while reading the book.
Out of the Easy is about Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute who’s desperate to get out of New Orleans and make something of herself. After running into a rich girl from Massachusetts, she sets her sights on Smith College, and goes to great lengths to get accepted. She’s also dealing with the mental deterioration of her elderly employer. And Josie has to deal with her prostitute mother’s issues with the law, which could jeopardize everything. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in this book, and I think the story could have done well, had Sepetys done a better job of integrating the various conflicts and subplots. I didn’t feel that she did, however, so I found the text to be clunky. Because of the way the story was told, Sepetys only focused on one problem at a time. For a few chapters, Josie would deal with her college application, and then for a little while she would try to figure out what was going on in her mother’s life. I didn’t find the way Out of the Easy focused on one thing at a time to be realistic or particularly engaging; the novel would have worked much better if all of the problems, which were going on at once, had been dealt with together in the narrative, instead of separately.
I also felt that this book read something like a fairytale. Even though Sepetys talks about the mob and sex workers, the recurring theme of Cinderella kept me from feeling that this was realistic. Likewise, I found that all of the characters were fairly flat, especially Josie. I found Josie to be rather naïve, considering she grew up in a brothel in a seedy part of town. She was very much portrayed as the “pure” child born in bad circumstances, who was so much better than all of her friends. Ana’s review at The Book Smugglers does a very good job analyzing and discussing that issue. Needless to say, I was not impressed with Josie.
Sloppy plot and stale characters aside, I was still enchanted by Sepetys’s portrayal of little-seen places and times in historical fiction. In the first few chapters, Out of the Easy does a great job setting the stage for the story, and I felt like New Orleans in 1950 was a very real, palpable place throughout the remainder of the text. Of course, the entire book did feel a tad bit sugarcoated, but I was satisfied with what I got.
I think Ruta Sepetys is a good author. Both Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy are well-written, captivating stories. But they aren’t without their faults, as much as I’d like to say otherwise. Out of the Easy in particular was problematic, but not to the detriment of my overall enjoyment. I think that readers of historical fiction—or readers looking for something outside the YA norm—would enjoy this book.
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."
Wow. Never thought I'd enjoy Out of the Easy as much as I did... ok I'm lying. I expected it to be awesome and awesome it was. Kudos, Sepetys for creating a fabulous historical world of fiction set in the 1950s in New Orleans with amazing characters.
It is very unfortunate that I cannot say the same for Between Shades of Gray do not ask me why, it's a long story. Josie wants to escape life in 'The Big Easy' as well the clutches of her mother (whom treats her horribly. Hmph!) and attend college far far away from New Orleans and the people that look down upon her for being the daughter of a prostitute. To achieve this, she must go through temptation, drama, and mishap. Sepetys crafted a wonderful world that brings inspiration and hope all from a town filled with poverty and prostitution. I enjoyed Josie very much, she was a strong-willed bookworm whom I could relate to... to an extent.
"The only reason I'd lift my skirt is to pull out my pistol and plug you in the head."
I enjoy historical fiction so I knew this wouldn't be a problem. To be frank, I enjoy it more than paranormal Young Adult Lit even though i read more paranormal than i do histrical. If you're new to this whole historical fiction genre, Out of the Easy will most definitely leave you with wanting more of HiFi (okay HiFi is a stupid abbreviation, I know). The feeling I got whilst reading this was... I don't have words for it. It was as though I was there, but really not. Like I could feel the atmosphere of the French Quarter, yet I couldn't. Do you even understand what I'm trying explain?
Wait, I think I have a better example: You know in the Order of the Phoenix (the film) where Harry stumbles upon the pensieve, falls into it and is "back in time" (though really he was in a memory). Well, whilst in the court room at the Ministry of Magic -- he's there experiencing what's going down and sees the people as well as feel the tension in the room, but he's not really there... you get it? That's what it felt like for me.
My favourite character in Out of the Easy was Willie, the madam at Conti Street bordello. She appeared to be a vulgar, mean woman when in reality, she was all about tough love. She cared for Josie even though it didn't seem like it; I loved/admired her remarks and her toughness. She wasn't one to sugarcoat things. She was very outspoken, opinionated, and extremely intelligent when it came to handling business. I loved Josie's description of Willie, too: The wicked stepmother with the fairy godmother heart. It's on point.
I'd recommend that you get your hands on Out of the Easy immediately and start gobbling this up. You are missing out on a colourful world.
Why I Loved It: Out of the Easy was nothing like Between Shades of Gray. But it was incredible nonetheless. I have never read a book with so many scenes in a brothel that I enjoyed so much. The book had ounces and ounces of character spiced between the pages, and I adored Jo. Adored her. No one quite writes historical fiction like Ruta Sepetys.
It has been a while since I have read a book set in New Orleans. I don't know much about the area, so I can't vouch for accuracy. However, as I read, the setting came to life. I kept waking from my book daydreams thinking I was in 1950 Louisiana. I even dreamed about the story one night after reading before bed. There were so many characters involved in some dirty business that I came to have a lot of respect for. *Remember they are fictional characters Deidra* The feel of the book was very much the delightful feeling I get from watching 50's gangster movies. I don't know why. Maybe it's how connected everyone in the book is with all the information men on the street watching everyone's every move.
Josie's *Jo* situation was sad, at times heartbreaking, but it wasn't the emotional wrenching experience of her previous book. Throughout the book, I experienced pleasure with Jo during the huge ups and downs that was her life. I wanted, more than anything, for her to succeed. She won my heart and my detest for Louise. She does not even deserve to be connected to Jo with the title of mother.
One of the biggest strengths of the book was how well developed the minor characters were. They didn't subtract or take away from Josie. Rather they were stories spun together to form the person that IS Josie. *Such is what makes great historical fiction* Cokie, a cab driver, was one of my favorites. He was the ray of light in the darkness of the Quarter. Ms. Sepetys has the ability to create the most despicable characters that you hate, and to take other characters doing despicable things and make you love them dearly.
Who Should Read It: I recommend this to anyone who enjoys some seriously good historical fiction. Its a book close to my heart, and I welcome you to bring it into yours.