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.