“Out of the Easy” by Ruta Sepetys is a gripping novel. It’s a book that can easily cross over from young adult fare to adult reading. The story, about a girl growing up in New Orleans, is beautifully told.
From the beginning, when the reader learns about Josie, the daughter of a prostitute, her sterling character grabs the reader’s heart. At that point, the reader is hooked — what becomes of Josie and how she deals with her abomination of a mother (and not because she’s a prostitute) — how does this strong, intelligent young lady turn out?
The setting is the French Quarter in 1950’s New Orleans. Readers will be able to breathe in the steamy scent of the Mississippi and see both the squalor and the mansions in the French Quarter. The snobbery and the kindness of families there are equally described as they pass by the bookstore where Josie works.
Josie has lived at the bookstore since the age of twelve, thanks to the kindness of the bookstore’s owner, Charlie. His son is one of Josie’s best friends and has the potential to become more than just a friend.
Josie also works mornings cleaning the brothel where her mother works, and where the madam, Willie, has befriended Josie. Josie’s other best friends are Willie’s driver, Cokie, and Willie’s cook, Sadie. They become the family that her mother, a cold, greedy, stupid, grasping woman, could never be.
Josie has many difficult choices to deal with. Should she try to attend Smith College far away from New Orleans while she carries the stigma of being the daughter of a prostitute? Or, cheaper and far more practical, attend a local college which would mean going to school with snobby girls who would spread the word about Josie’s antecedents.
The book is beautifully written and a commentary on life in the South in the 1950s. Sepetys portrays the social strata and the cruelty of those in the highest levels of society. The aura of corruption in New Orleans is also painted vividly as is the kindness and generosity of those Josie loves.
This is a story about prostitutes, their customers, the madam, and those who live on the fringes of society. It deals with mature themes — but never explicitly. While the book was written for those aged 14 and older, adults will enjoy the story and never realize that it’s not a book written for adults.
Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by the publisher, Philomel, for review purposes.
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