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.