Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting with this novel. I still need to read Sepetys’ first novel (and I plan to do so soon). I guess I was ready to take in a flashy, high stakes New Orleans drama, starring the confused daughter of a prostitute. And while in some cases, that’s what this book was, in other cases, this book was so above and beyond any of my expectations.
I loved the main character. How can you not love a girl who feels most at home at a bookstore, so at home that she sleeps there as a child? She’s taken in by the owner when she’s 12! She’s given her apartment above the shop in payment for working at the store. And of course Josie is intelligent. She reads a million books and has dreams of college and a life outside the whorehouse that her mother works for, and that she cleans up at.
And while the book is layered with Cinderella type themes (Josie is even referred to as Cinderella), and Josie gets the bookstore apartment, nothing is easy or fairytale-like. So many men ask Josie when she will start lifting her skirts. There’s murders, mobs, robberies, and all of the interesting stuff I was expecting. But it’s also sad, hard, and sometimes tough to read.  And the image of New Orleans that this author paints is so powerful. She writes about the setting in a way that you wish all authors do. She’s not overly descriptive, but you just feel like you can literally see everything; it’s like you’re there in the 1950’s.
On top of all the action and Josie’s dreams are the serious mother issues. Josie is constantly picking up her mother’s messes (both literally and figuratively). She cleans her room when she leaves. She pays her debts. She tries to talk her out of sticky situations. She lies for her to her boss. She lies for her to the cops. And no matter what she does for her, she always ends up loosing. And while I can see how Josie would hope to have a better relationship with her mother, part of me just never got this part of the story. A huge, critical part of the plot happens toward the end with her mother disappointing again. And I wasn’t disappointed. As soon as Josie said something to her mom about a certain watch, I knew it would happen. And for such a smart girl, it was a little hard for me to see her so blind to her comment. How many times does her awful mother have to disappoint her, before she realizes not to tell her mom where she hides things?
On the other hand, I loved her other mother. The one she’s not related to –the madam, Willie. And I guess it says something when people genuinely seem to care for the loud, tough madam more than they ever do for Josie’s’ real mother. Willie kind of reminded me of a mixture of Sue from Glee, the adoptive mother from The Book Thief, and Mrs. Weasley from Harry Potter. She’s a tough businesswoman on the outside, but on the inside, she gives Josie birthday presents, attends her high school graduation, and does everything in her power to prevent her from becoming a prostitute. Yet, there’s this divide between Josie’s real mom and her non-related mom. Why couldn’t Josie ever go to Willie with her problems? And why would she ever lie to her about her actual mother?
There were definite mommy issues going on here. And that’s kind of what fueled the story and all of it’s mystery. But, it’s clear from the beginning who really cares for Josie and why Josie is the way she is. I loved the side characters, even the prostitutes. I loved the hearing about the bucket of items Josie would find in the mornings. I loved the side story with the murder and the mob connection. I loved the bookshop and the owners, even though one was suffering from mental illness. And most of all I loved the overwhelming sense of family you got from those around Josie. Her world was seedy; there’s spies, thieves, gambling, prostitution, and so much else, yet everyone in the French quarter looked out for each other too.
I enjoyed getting lost in this book and it’s setting. I enjoyed getting to know Josie, and I kept hoping for her to succeed, to get an acceptance letter. I did feel like the ending was a little too easy.  A certain character dies (and it’s sad) but it’s also a little convenient. It allows for other things to take off. And while I’m happy for certain happy endings, I felt like it was a little out of the blue and definitely all happened too soon. I also love the topic of this story and how Sepeteys wasn’t afraid to write it like it was for a YA audience. I have become a fan of this author’s writing ability, and I look forward to reading her other work. This gets a 9/10.

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