Out of the Easy
By Ruta Sepetys
Available now from Philomel (Penguin)
Ruta Sepetys burst onto the YA scene with BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, which basically won all of the awards and got confused with an infamous erotic trilogy. OUT OF THE EASY proves that Sepetys is no one-hit wonder. Set in 1950 New Orleans, OUT OF THE EASY is the story of clever, determined Josie Moraine and her journey out of the Easy.
In most novels, Jo would be that doggedly self-sufficient girl never accepting any help from anybody because of her pride. Jo has plenty of pride, albeit battered and wounded, but she relies on and trusts her friends, even asking for help when she needs it. And she has needed help. She's smart and ambitious, but she started from nothing. Her mother is mean, a prostitute and thief with no time for child. Jo moved into her own apartment as a child, trading work for a small apartment in a bookshop with a kindly owner.
Don't worry about OUT OF THE EASY being about the evils of prostitution. Several of the women at the brother are great people, and the madam is one of the most heroic characters in the story. Willie Woodley is no saint, don't get me wrong. She puts her own interests at number one. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have the heart to help the people she cares about. Nope, Jo's mother is a bad person because she specifically is a bad person - even if Jo would prefer not to face that truth.
Jo has always wanted to leave New Orleans, but her dreams take concrete shape when she meets two well-to-do customers. Forrest Hearne mistakes her for a college girl and treats her with respect. Charlotte Gates, a Smith student, tells Jo all about the college and encourages her to apply. Jo knew she was smart enough for college, but didn't have the money. But because of those two people she's inspired to go to Smith and raise the tuition, somehow.
OUT OF THE EASY is a tapestry of a novel. There's a murder mystery here, a love story (or two) there, a tragedy playing out down the street, and one girl trying not just to stay afloat, but to rise above. Sepetys brings Jo's world to life. She shows the music and the soul of New Orleans, the class divisions and the geography. The characters feel like they go on to have their own stories when they aren't interacting with Jo. There are hints of their histories and futures, their faults and dreams. There are hundreds of potential stories in OUT OF THE EASY; Sepetys just chose to tell us Jo's.
And what a story it is. Love and death and everything in between. I dare you not to fall in love with Jo, who loves books and longs for elegance and has no time for boys. Even if you hate historical fiction, give OUT OF THE EASY a chance to take you in.
(This book is my valentine.)