Out of the Easy, by the author of one of my favourite books, Between Shades of Gray, was easily one of my most anticipated novels of this year. But it couldn’t be more different from Between Shades of Gray, which just goes to show that Ruta Sepetys is an author to watch. Out of the Easy starts with: ‘My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.’ – so not exactly a paragraph I see often in young adult literature. Out of the Easy, marvellously honest, does not shy away from the gritty New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1950s.
Josie Moraine is a seventeen-year-old part-time bookseller and cleaner at the local brothel, where her erratic mother works. Josie wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans and attend the elite Smith College in far away Massachusetts, where nobody will know that she’s the daughter of a prostitute. But on New Year’s Eve, a wealthy visitor to New Orleans, who had entered her bookshop only the day before, is found dead. Josie’s ambition takes a knock when she’s determined to find out the truth: how did a well-educated, healthy man suddenly die?
New Orleans, as it turns out, is one of the most grandiose locations for stories. It’s always a little bit more colourful, vivid, and rich than anywhere else, as in Cate Tiernan’s Balefire trilogy. As Ruta Sepetys says, ‘New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture, even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner.’ Yet Out of the Easy does not paint 1950s New Orleans as a perfectly quaint city; the French Quarter is dangerous to those who do not keep out of the way.
Out of the Easy is also a wonderful novel for book lovers. It has an excellent selection of bookish quotations that I’ll be sharing on Tumblr, such as ‘Shelves without books were lonely and just plain wrong‘. Josie lives and works in a bookshop, a childish dream that a lot of us bookish folk had. Josie values literary knowledge, education, and literacy, and we see glimpses of how passionate she is about this throughout the book, as well as from some of the secondary characters.
Out of the Easy is a fantastic novel and one of the best books I have read this year. I’d have liked it to explore the secondary characters a little more, such as Jesse Thierry, the enigmatic young boy who refers to Josie as ‘Motor City’; Patrick Marlow, Josie’s longtime friend whose father owns the bookshop where they both work; and feisty businesswoman Willie (who, yes, is a little like Wilhelmina from Ugly Betty). Out of the Easy is certainly a different novel and it shows that young adult literature does not have to be ‘light’. Read it and you’ll be transported to a completely different time, where the uncomfortable is not held back.
Published: 12th February 2013 (US) 7th March 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Philomel, Penguin Books (US) Puffin, Penguin Books (UK)
Source: Thank you Puffin for providing this book to review!
If you liked: Balefire & Between Shades of Gray