New Orleans! YA! At first, I thought it couldn't be done. Contemporary YAs usually involve cute 17-year-old girls with angst/terminal illness/abandonmNew Orleans! YA! At first, I thought it couldn't be done. Contemporary YAs usually involve cute 17-year-old girls with angst/terminal illness/abandonment issues/low self-esteem (pick one or two..) and high aspirations (saving the world, anyone?), while attracting attention of mature 18-year-old boys that seem to be smarter and wiser than Mr.Darcy. Ruta Sepetys proved me wrong. She managed to blend 'ol New Orleans and its gangsters and prostitutes with a coming-of-age story of Josie Moraine, all the while infusing the right mix of book-love to the tale.
Josie Moraine is too smart for New Orleans. It's the 50's, when madams, criminals and honest working guys easily tangled together in the French Quarter. Josie grew up there since she was 8, when her mother returned to the only brothel she has known since her youth, one owned by Willie. Forced to grow up faster among all the prostitutes, Josie went to live in an apartment above a bookstore when she was only 12, all the while cleaning and running errands for Willie, who's been more of a mother to her than her own mother. Willie knows that Josie is smart, and behind her hardened exterior, she makes sure that Josie is well taken care of, including teaching her how to shoot. While working at the bookstore, she met Charlotte, a student at Smith College up North. Charlotte inspires Josie to apply to Smith and leave the comfort of her beloved city.
I've read Ms. Sepetys' first novel, and am amazed on how she's able to write a second novel with an entirely different setting. Book lovers would certainly fall in love with Josie's living situation - what with her staying at an apartment above the bookstore where she's working. The characters around Josie are also interesting; they're not as black-and-white as we like to think. However, what could've been the strength of the book is also its weakness. While I love all the characters (including the gangsters!), they are just too many and this being a YA novel means there's only so much space for the author to write about Willie, Patrick (Josie's 'almost boyfriend'), Charlie (Patrick's father and the owner of the bookstore), Charlotte, and even Jesse (her eventual boyfriend).
Ms. Sepetys should have considered writing a grown-up novel on Josie so that readers can lap up all the exciting tidbits about NOLA. Just like The Help has done to Alabama.. :)...more
Reading this book reminded me of my troubled students. One thing for sure, parents make all the difference. I can tell lots of stories about my silverReading this book reminded me of my troubled students. One thing for sure, parents make all the difference. I can tell lots of stories about my silver-spoon-fed students - those whose parents told them they don't have to worry about money the rest of their lives - and they are no different with Janie/Leshaya of this story.
Janie grew up in foster care; her mother gave her up to an abusive foster parents. From the beginning there's always been someone who still cared for her, like Doris, the social worker who's assigned to check up on her from time to time. She's got a best friend in Harmon, who introduced her to 'the ladies' - the jazz greats Etta, Aretha, Odetta, Roberta - and made her sing. She could hit the right notes since she was little and people were struck by her youth when they turned around and see who sang.
However, life hadn't spared her from bad parenting. The whole story took the readers to the downward spiral of Janie, reinventing herself into Leshaya, from an innocent 9 year-old kidnapped by a pair of drug dealers (her mom traded her for heroin) to a 13 year-old club singer who gave away her own daughter. At times people actually cared for her, but it had always been hard to trust people due to her upbringing, she ended up 'burning bridges' and either ran away or had herself kicked out.
Some reviewers wondered how Leshaya failed to appreciate all the cares she received, but after spending time with middle-schoolers, I know that children has to be both taught and nurtured, and even when they thought they know everything about the world, they do not. Also, you cannot make a difference in someone's life unless you are willing to sacrifice yourself. It takes a long time for people to turn away from bad influences, especially when you've known these things growing up.
Being a teacher means seeing a lot of different kids come and go. By the time kids reach middle school, they come with a lot of baggage, be it good or bad. I've been a teacher for almost 3 years, and sometimes I regret the way I acted toward some of my troubled kids, now going on to higher grades. Some kids have came up to me and acknowledged how my discipline have helped them in high school, but most just stayed their old same selves and made me wonder, if only I got to be their parents, I'd probably manage to change their bad habits.
This book opened my eyes wider about being a good influence to people around you who need help. Sometimes you think you don't make any difference by helping someone in trouble, but as long as you do it because it's right, you've touched that person's life and maybe, just maybe, someday they'll appreciate it and touch other people's life because of you.
Lastly, a word about the way this novel's written - it'd remind you of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' where the writer uses spelling and wording commonly found in the South, so please don't judge the book by its writing! And the way she ends the story, while it may exasperates some readers, I think it's a good way to end so we know that either way, Janie realized how this one decision may change the course of her daughter's life. ...more