Publisher: Penguin Books.
Paperback, 346 pages.
Release date: March 7th 2013 2013.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Reviewed by: Arianne.
Out of the Easy is set against the vivid backdrop of 1950s New Orleans. Written by New York Times bestselling author Ruth Sepetys, this novel has something for everyone: love, mystery, murder, blackmail and warmth.
Josie Moraine wants out of The Big Easy - she needs more than New Orleans can offer. Known locally as a brothel prostitute's daughter, she dreams of life at an elite college, far away from here.
But then a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie caught between her ambition and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans is luring Josie deeper in as she searches for the truth, and temptation beckons at every turn.
Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute. Her mother lives in the gutter and she has no plans to leave it – but Jo is everything her mother is not, and she knows she can’t let the Big Easy drag her down.
This is one of the most beautifully crafted books I’ve ever read. Historical fiction can be famously long-winded but here the short and snappy vibe of the New Orleans setting encourages the plot to grow in a very organic, engaging way. 1950s New Orleans is a shady world, so far unexplored by young adult fiction. Sepetys takes the opportunity to play with the era. It is no less historically accurate but there is more flamboyance, more excitement, more theatricality, and I really enjoyed that.
Out of the Easy's story is defined by alternate bursts of daring and restraint. Ruta Sepetys has a track record of writing emotionally brutal books, of capturing stories that need to be told, but she brings a balance and depth to this book that I really wasn't expecting. It’s as the words are a skeletal outline; just a surface shimmer of what lies underneath. So much is left to the imagination; the reader never has to work to keep up but filling in the blanks reinforces the fact that some of the best stories are filled with things left unsaid.
There are a lot of contenders in the literary world for the title of Worst Mother in History, but I think it’s safe to assume Josie’s mother trumps them all. It’s not her profession that defines her. Some of the brothel cast are wonderful – in an environment we would assume strips all their power and worth from them, they are strong, strangely empowered and surprisingly self-righteous. Dora in particular stands out here. Josie’s mother is nothing like these colourful and vibrant characters. She is spineless, uncaring and vague in that way that makes you think she probably wasn’t born with the ability for self-respect. As a reader you want all characters to somehow be redeemed, but with Josie’s mother most will be hoping to see her sink down further and stay there.
Jo, on the other hand, is absolutely brilliant. She’s seen the bottom, and she knows she never wants to see it again. I loved that she kept her wits about her and never denied the fact that her escape from New Orleans would be difficult. She’s not an air-headed dreamer. She’s level-headed - practical. That said, she can still whip out a gun faster than a man could blink, and she is incredibly, fantastically brave. She has ambitions that lie beyond the sleazy confines of New Orleans, even if the city has other plans in mind for her. The seedy underbelly of the Quarter tries to sink its claws into her at every turn, and she has no choice but to fight her way out if she's to survive at all.
In Ruta’s previous book, Between Shades of Gray, there’s emphasis on tragedy lost in the swarming quagmire of modern history. Unfortunately, I found it didn’t fully come to life – I was devastated by the story, but I was more affected by the harrowing factual events of the narrative than the perspective of the characters within it. There is no such discrepancy here. The New Orleans of Josie's experience is both lively and disgusting; it's dirt poor and super rich. All her memories are wrapped up in a world of women selling themselves to men in return for pearl necklaces and enough money to fuel their addictions for another week, but Jo wants more than that from her life. She wants education; she wants self-worth and the strength to stand on her own two feet. Love doesn't even cross her radar until she begins to feel it for herself.
I adore Jesse. He's a kind of James Dean figure in the book, leaning on his battered car and looking all handsome, but he too has a past he'd rather leave behind. He contrasts so perfectly with Patrick, Josie's other potential love interest (though it's certainly not a love triangle by any means - it's rare that all three characters are seen at the same time). The romance was sweet but of course, it's never without strife.
Out of the Easy is a character-driven novel but a well-planned plot surrounds it, though the book is slow to start. Fans of mysteries will appreciate the complex and criminal murder plot. If I had to choose between the coming-of-age story and the crime-solving, I’d take the coming-of-age, but it’s a great addition to the novel and really makes it stands out from the crowd.
In short: Some books have nice flow; a good line here and there. Out of the Easy is a waterfall. It is not immediately perfect; it teeters on the edge of the precipice, and then within its final chapters, it tumbles into the abyss of pure magnificence. A classic.
Originally posted at: Reading with ABC