Historical Fiction is not usually my preferred genre. Unless the history that is involved is from two centuries ago or so, then I’m more likely to reconsider picking up such a book. Recent history though is not one of my preferences when it comes to fiction. Maybe I’m still hung on choosing to study History at A-Levels. Five years have passed since then but I still have dreaded memories from needing to memorize the histories surrounding the Cold War, the emergence of states in Southeast Asia, the invasion of the Bay of Pigs, etc. The only interesting parts were those involving Egypt and Israel. But I digress.
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 get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an 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 her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
Out of the Easy has a cover that plain called out to me from the shelves. Before I could go on to read the blurb, I had already fallen in love with the cover. This girl behind the cage looks trapped, even though she’s not inside the cage per se. That girl’s blue blouse, the red cage and the surrounding green made one stunning cover. Then there’s the opening:
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.
That to me was an unconventional start to a book, so I decided to continue reading anyway. Didn’t matter that it was set in 1950. Plus Josie wished her name was Josephine and she loved books. If that couldn’t win me over, nothing could.
In terms of the historical setting, a lot of times I forgot that the story was set over 60 years in the past. The reminders of this time bygone lay more in Josie’s disposition and the uncertainties that she faced. Social class had an exceeding effect on whom she could associate with. Until she met Charlotte, a girl from out of town who had no idea who Josie was. That Josie was the daughter of a prostitute, that Josie was named after a madam for which her mother was actually proud, or that she worked two jobs to save money for university. Whether or not she would be accepted was another mystery to her though.
Amidst the poverty that Josie battled with, her mother constituted another whole battle in itself. The relationship between Josie and her mother was strained, to say the least. When someone was left dead in the French Quarter, things only got worse.
Out of the Easy was marked with vivid prose and a strong voice that also underscored the strength of character that Josie possessed. Despite her circumstances she had grand dreams and she put all that she could into realizing them.
For a standalone book, Sepetys managed to pack a lot of things into it. From murder, to the relationship between Josie and her mother, the adults in her life who cared more for Josie than her own mother did, to the friendships she had with Jesse and Patrick, to her intellectual pursuits and her yearning for a female friend in Charlotte, all while living in the clandestine world of 1950 New Orleans. With so many elements in Out of the Easy, most readers are sure to find something that interests them in it, as did I, even though historical fiction and mysteries are not my conventional reads.