Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Out of the Easy - Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, historical fiction
Published on February 12, 2013
Published by Philomel
Pages: 346
Read From: 5.3.13 - 5.4.13

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 to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in a police 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 a quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes. After reading the book, I love the "symbology" of the birdcage and how "Josie" is situated right behind it, so it kind of gives the illusion that she's actually in the cage. On the one hand, the cover is a little boring, but there was definitely something about it that caught my interest.

Characters: Josie is a surprisingly sympathetic and practical protagonist. She's lived a less-than-ideal life. Her mother hasn't been a very good moral figure, nor has she been a loving parent; the streets of the French Quarter are anything but safe, and Josie has had to take care of herself - and her mother - virtually her entire life. But Josie does her very best to better her life. She doesn't want to end up like her mother or any of the other girls at Willie Woodley's brothel; she fills her head with literature, works hard at school, and has aspirations to go to a good college and leave New Orleans once and for all. Even better, Josie carries and knows how to use a gun; she isn't one of these modern female protagonists who's afraid to even look at a gun crosswise, lest it go off. She's a strong girl, and it's very easy to sympathize with her as she struggles to make a better life, and constantly runs into obstacles. Her mother is unbelievably easy to hate. As soon as she stepped into the story, I disliked her. She was mean to Josie, constantly belittling her, stole from her, and used her at every turn. I wouldn't say that I liked Willie Woodley - I had a hard time "connecting" to a brothel house proprietor. However, Willie was definitely a very interesting character, and I really appreciated her role in the story. I could see how the people in the town grew to like her so much. While not an honest woman, she was their protector from criminals far worse than herself, and she was in all but name Josie's surrogate mother. Willie had a strong and unique personality that wouldn't allow me to ignore her, and I'll also admit that she had some really funny dialogue. But did I like her? Not exactly, but I enjoyed reading about her. The two boys - Patrick and Jesse - I liked equally. Patrick has a great relationship with Josie; very brotherly, and I loved it. I wasn't certain if I liked Jesse all that much at first, but it didn't take long for his quiet, yet fun, personality to get the better of me. Charlotte wasn't in the story much, but she was definitely one of my favorite "minor" characters, and Cokie is awesome beyond words. On the side of despicable and creepy characters, Mr. Lockwell was so sleazy and slimy that I wanted to take a shower every time he appeared, and Cincinnati was your typical creepy '50s gangster.

The Romance: With Patrick, Josie, and Jesse you expect a love triangle, right? No! The Author makes that rather impossible (more on that later), which I was perfectly fine with. I liked Patrick and Jesse equally; I didn't want to see either of their feelings hurt, and I didn't want Josie becoming silly with mixed up emotions. The romance in this is slow and sweet and not at all annoying. I actually rather liked it.

Plot: Josie is the daughter of a brothel prostitute. No one in the French Quarter of New Orleans lets her forget it, either. Even worse, Josie's mother hates her daughter and wishes she had never been born. Forced to make her own way in the world, Josie spends her days employed at a bookstore and doing housework at Willie Woodley's brothel. She hopes to one day leave New Orleans, go to college, and get a better life. One day when Josie is working in Patrick's dad's bookstore, a rich tourist - Mr. Hearne - comes in to buy some books. Wishing that her life was different from what it is, Josie begins to make up fantasies that Mr. Hearne is her biological father. So when Mr. Hearne turns up dead New Year's Day - reportedly of a heart attack - Josie is devastated. And suspicious. It doesn't take long for investigators to come to the conclusion that Mr. Hearne didn't die of a heart attack. And as the police continue to investigate, the trail begins to point toward Josie's mother. The mystery of Mr. Hearne's death is not the book's main focus. This is definitely a more character-driven than plot-driven story, but even so the mystery isn't thrown totally to the wayside. The Author offers a nice balance of Josie's continued efforts to make her way to college, the doings of the resident criminal thug Cincinnati, and Mr. Hearne's death. The era may be partially what kept me so interested, as well as Josie herself. I genuinely wanted to see what would happen to her. Would she get enough money to go to college? Would she even be accepted? Would she and her mother come to an understanding eventually? I became utterly wrapped up in Josie's life; her triumphs and disappointments, the good and the bad, her pain and happiness. It made the rather slow plot go much faster.

Believability: I'm not expert on the 1950's or New Orleans. I am going to assume that the Author did her research thoroughly; it certainly sounded like she did.

Writing Style: I thought Josie had a great narration voice, and the Author filled her style with classic 1950's flair. The dialogue was great, and her descriptions were very evocative of the era.

Content: Naturally with Willie Woodley's brothel house - and Josie's mother being a prostitute - there is unavoidable sexual undertones and innuendos. However, for a book like this the undertones and innuendos were surprisingly light. There was no explicit imagery and no actual sexual scenes (one character accosts Josie, but it doesn't get very far at all before she whips out a pistol). Josie has no intention of becoming like her mother; not in any form. [Spoiler] It's later revealed that Patrick is gay, though the Author never comes right out and says it. But it's pretty obvious. The only reason I wasn't terribly upset by it is because I think the only reason the Author made Patrick gay was so he and Josie could still have a great friendship without it turning romantic. People seem to think that girls and guys can't be just good friends without turning romantic, but at least it didn't seem like the Author was trying to make a statement. [End spoiler]

Conclusion: Towards the end is when Mr. Hearne's death really comes into play, as well as Cincinnati and the mafia thug he works for, Carlos Marcello. Actually, the climax is surprisingly exciting and fast paced, with a triumphant ending and some sad moments. With everything that happens, I half expected Josie to not end up leaving New Orleans - in which case I would have not liked this book as much as I do. But I was pleased with the end, and the overall book. When I first picked up Out of the Easy, I was about 99.9% positive that I wasn't going to finish it. I was expecting it to be filled with questionable content and a protagonist who makes all the wrong decisions. It's true that Josie stumbles a few times, but she's got friends to help her up, and she makes the right choices when it comes to the big things. She's a victim of a criminal mother, but she doesn't let herself become a victim at heart. She steps up to the challenge and plows ahead. This was definitely one of the few inspirational reads I really enjoyed.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, sixteen and up due to sexual undertones (though they are not graphic). This is also a terrific Young Adult read for adults. Great for fans of "relaxed" historical fiction.

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