I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. I cracked it open intending to read the first few chapters one afternoon, and stayed up until midnight to finish it. Meticulously researched and wholly authentic, Josie Moraine’s story had me glued to the page.
Fans of BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY will find an entirely new story here, yet there are some common threads to appreciate. Once again Sepetys has placed a young woman in an historically accurate yet horrifically dangerous situation, with eroding support systems, and allies in the unlikeliest of people. She’s given us a heroine whose strength comes from daring to believe she can escape, survive, and thrive against terrible odds. Josie is conflicted but compassionate, lost but loyal. Compassion, loyalty, and hope, untinged by sentimentality, are what drew me into both OUT OF THE EASY and BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY.
It's 1950. Josie is the 17-year old daughter of Louise, a New Orleans prostitute. Whenever she meets a kind, intelligent man, she adds him to her notebook of fantasy father candidates. Louise is narcissistic, vapid, treacherous, and self-destructive. (She’s the kind of literary mother who always gives me a warm feeling that maybe I’m not doing so badly after all.) At age seven, Josie could mix martinis like a French Quarter bartender, and sleep in hotel lobbies while Louise turned tricks. In one sense Josie has raised herself, but she’s always had the protection of Willie, a Conti Street madam (and Louise’s boss), whose brothel Josie cleans each morning, and Charlie, an author and bookstore owner who lets Josie sleep in a back room in his shop. Josie reads in the shop and dreams of college, but the seamy French Quarter’s reputation hangs about her like bayou fog. Affluent businessmen who frequent the brothel know intimately whose daughter Josie is. It will take a college far, far away from The Big Easy to give Josie a chance to be her own woman, not Quarter trash, though leaving would devastate her patron and de facto mother, Willie. Josie is determined never to sell out like Louise did. But when Louise is implicated in a murder, and skips town owing a blood debt to the mob, Josie’s chances of freedom dwindle trigger-thin. Caught between death and betrayal, Josie realizes her mother has left her no alternative but to follow her, er, career path simply to stay alive.
My synopsis sadly lacks a mention of two conveniently gorgeous young men who take a close interest in Josie: Patrick, Charlie’s piano-playing son who works with Josie in the bookstore, and flower vender-slash-biker-turned-mechanic, Jesse. So consider them mentioned. Warmly.
OUT OF THE EASY is a gripping read. Willie, Cokie, Dora, Sweety, Sadie, and even Evangeline have stayed with me since I finished the novel. Ruta Sepetys has again introduced to us a young woman of substance who refuses to surrender her hopes for a full life despite the most depraved circumstances, one who finds flowers of affection and kindness growing in the most barren places. Strongly recommended. One to watch in 2013.
OUT OF THE EASY releases in hardcover February 12, 2013 from Philomel. Available to pre-order from your local store.