12 February 2013
Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
I really enjoyed this fast paced, unique story with an older, gutsy heroine and a surprisingly moving ending. I preferred this to Between Shades of Grey, I felt it was a more unusual story and setting and had wonderful, individual characters as well as an excellent, tense mystery with some really dramatic scenes but that doesn't overshadow the character development. I read this over a day because I was desperate to find out what happens and I felt that Sepetys' writing was more lyrical and moving that her debut. Also, bonus points for having Josie, our heroine, working in a bookshop.
First Line: "My mother's a prostitute."
Why I read it: I read Sepetys' debut, Between Shades of Grey, when it was shortlisted for the Carnegie award last year and found it very moving so was excited to get an ARC via NetGalley/Penguin for her new novel.
Who I would recommend it to: Fans of Theresa Breslin and character-driven historical fiction.
As we learn at the very start of the novel, Josie's mother is a prostitute. We're not talking about a heart-of-gold prostitute here (although there are some of those in the book), Josie's mother is selfish, silly and vain. Her mother, Louise, brings Josie back to New Orleans and ends up re-entangled with a gangster she's previously known. Josie, who is the opposite of her mother, ends up working and living at a local bookstore owned by an author and his son. The actions kicks off when a visiting businessman is killed in a bar and Josie gets embroiled in the investigations.
Josie is a wonderful heroine who is intelligent and caring. She makes some really bad decisions, but these decisions are completely in line with the character that Sepetys has created and so don't feel like just ways to move the plot along. Whilst Josie is definitely our heroine, the book is quite has a very strong ensemble cast, as it were. Willie, the madam Louise works for, is a great character - tough, smart and more of a mother to Josie than Louise ever is. Some of the scenes with Josie and Willie are genuinely very moving and Willie felt like a really unique character for teen fiction which was refreshing. The two potential love interests are also hugely appealing and I liked both Patrick and Jesse; Patrick works in the bookshop and cares for his ill father and Jesse is a more playful mechanic. A very small criticism is that there is a scene with one of the men that is supposed to be a reveal and I thought was written a little messily so it wasn't quite clear but I read an proof copy so it might be tweaked when it is published. I want to briefly mention one other character, Charlotte, the rich girl that Josie meets by chance. Sepetys really captures that wonderful feeling of meeting someone you click with right away and I was probably even more invested in their friendship than the romantic relationships. I would have liked to have more Charlotte, the letter she sends Josie near the end of the book got me a little teary.
I really appreciated how fresh a concept this was. I think historical fiction can feel very derivative but this was a really new, unique story to me. I don't think I've read any historical fiction set in New Orleans and this book made me want to go and find out more about the city in the 1950s. It also helped having an older heroine, Josie turns 18 during the novel, as it meant that Sepetys could explore the city from a different perspective. I really liked Between Shades of Grey, and it was an important story to tell, but I have read so many books set during a war and so many stories full of tragedy. I couldn't help but feel that I was so moved during that book because, who could help but be moved at a story of a family being torn apart and people being treated so cruelly, rather than because of Sepetys' writing. When I read I want to occasionally hit upon sentences or phrases that just sum something up beautifully and move me with the way the writer uses their words and Out of the Easy had that to a much greater degree than Between Shade of Grey for me, and it makes me excited to read Sepetys' next book. I was really moved at the end, not because of the sheer tragedy of events, but because Sepetys had really made me invested in the characters and their stories.
I would highly recommend this as a well paced, interesting read that manages to balance an exciting mystery with superbly drawn characters expertly.