Published by Philomel Books, Puffin
Genres: Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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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.
Thoughts: I really thought I would love Out of the Easy. I thought it would be an eerie, atmospheric novel, filled with intrigue and southern charm. Let me tell you now: it was none of those things.
Everyone raved about Between Shades of Gray, Ruta’s first book, but it never appealed to me. Out of the Easy sounded like it would have everything I’d want in it – and that was one of its problems. All of the content for a great book was there – New Orleans, a girl fighting the system, murder and intrigue, even a used bookstore – but there was no life in any of them.
Let’s deal with the main source of that lack-of-life: our leading lady, Josie. Ignoring all the upstairs-downstairs crap that was supposed to make this book “insightful”, Out of the Easy is based on two basic premises:
- Josie is brilliant. She’s a genius who deserves All. Good. Things.
- Life is so hard for poor Josie. Woe is Josie.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? If only.
Let’s start with that first point. For someone who is supposed to be so smart, she makes many, many stupid decisions. She trusts the wrong people, lies to the wrong people, and rolls over passively when a simple phone call could get her out of a bad situation.
Namely, it’s Josie’s passivity when dealing with her mother that was one of my biggest problems. This is a woman who – at every available opportunity – treats her horrendously. She beats Josie, she lies to Josie, she steals from Josie, she treats Josie like she is beneath her contempt. And it’s not as if Josie even excuses those things… she just doesn’t do anything about it. It’s as if the plot required Josie to do things “because that’s her mother”, and no thought was given to thinking about how Josie should react to her mother’s actions. Not to mention that, though she hates the stigma of being a prostitute’s daughter, she doesn’t seem to connect that stigma with her mother. I don’t think that’s how a
Maybe she has book smarts, because she sure wasn’t gifted any emotional intelligence.
Then there’s the “Woe is Josie” premise. Huh?? So many people in this book treat Josie like an absolute star, like she is the best thing since sliced bread and could well be the second coming. Which is great and everything, but it makes the “Woe is Josie” core of the story virtually impossible to buy into. Yes, her life isn’t what she wants, but whose isn’t? In all honesty, the life of a madam in New Orleans actually didn’t look to bad from where I was, so why was it so terrible for Josie? Other than her mother, Out of the Easy‘s prostitutes and chauffeurs all seemed rather content with their lot in life. Why wasn’t Josie? I have no idea.
Actually, “talking” it out now, I can see what really irked me about this book: Out of the Easy is a book about getting out of New Orleans, but it should have been a book about learning to love the “New Orleans” you’re dealt.
As if that weren’t enough, all the intrigue promised by the summary was not at all delivered. The mystery took a back seat to Josie’s angst and its resolution was met with a shrug. And as for New Orleans? The book could have been set in Harlem for all the effect the city had. Not cool. Not cool.
Bottom line? If you aren’t a reader who spends far too much time nitpicking characters, you’ll probably enjoy Out of the Easy a hell of a lot more than I did.