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Out of the Easy

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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.

348 pages, Hardcover

First published February 12, 2013

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About the author

Ruta Sepetys

11 books20.6k followers
#1 New York Times Bestselling Author and Winner of the Carnegie Medal.
Ruta Sepetys was born and raised in Michigan in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. The daughter of a refugee, Ruta is drawn to underrepresented stories of strength through struggle and hopes to give voice to those who weren't able to tell their story. Her award-winning historical novels are published in over sixty countries and have received over forty literary prizes.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,381 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,993 reviews298k followers
February 15, 2013

If you'd asked me about historical fiction two years ago, I would have told you it wasn't my thing. It had long been a genre that just didn't appeal to me. But, after discovering goodreads and getting awesome recommendations as well as hearing about books I would otherwise never have known about, I've ran into a series of books that have proved I was wrong about this genre. From the bright lights and dazzling atmosphere of Libba Bray's 1920s supernatural murder mystery - The Diviners - to the character-driven story of a Wales occupied by England - The Wicked and the Just - to a creepy ghost story set at the time of the First World War - In the Shadow of Blackbirds - and now this.

I confess that I was one of the few people who struggled to fully appreciate Between Shades of Gray (I know, I suck) but I had no such problem with Ruta Sepetys' second novel and I think I finally understand what it was about the first that failed for me and why this one delivered: the characters. Both are character-driven novels and even though there were numerous threats to the characters' survival in Between Shades of Gray, the plot is slow-moving and your ability to enjoy it depends on some connection with the characters. I lacked this. My cold heart felt nothing more than the general human sympathy we all typically feel for others who suffer. When people died it was sad because, you know, it's sad when people die, not because I really cared about the characters.

Out of The Easy is similar in that the characters are the main focus and the plot is slowly built around them. But these characters I loved so so much. Or loathed, but either will keep me interested in a novel's outcome. The setting is 1950s New Orleans and the protagonist is the teenage daughter of a prostitute - and possibly the worst mother ever. Josie longs to escape from 'The Big Easy' and go to college but she is forever being pulled back by her mother and her ties to the brothel where she works as housekeeper. Sepetys introduces a number of lively and colourful characters into this story, from the fierce and wonderful Willie who runs the brothel to the shameless and hilarious Dora who works there.

The patriarchal hierarchy of women puts such lusty wenches as these right down at the bottom and it is common to picture a prostitute as a tragic and doomed character like Fantine from Les Misérables. For Sepetys to take such an interesting look into the lives and dealings of prostitutes and to show them as strong, funny and oddly empowered women really made me love this book. I don't mean that she portrays prostitution as in any way a good profession, these women would much rather be somewhere else, of course they would. But she portrays them as human beings who have been dealt a bad hand in life and, instead of falling into a pit of despair, they have taken control of their lives, doing what they have to in order to survive. It is incredibly effective and I was all the more angry at the people who sneered at them because of it.

This book is one which is at times very funny or heartwarming and at others sad and frustrating (in a good way). It is frustrating to be inside Josie's head and have to deal with her mother, it is frustrating when people expect Josie to never achieve anything just because of where she came from. But it is a good frustrating because you care so much. The dialogue is also fantastic and I laughed out loud several times and teared up towards the end. Very, very good. I am so pleased I gave this author another chance.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.7k followers
March 29, 2022
ugh, im such a fangirl for RSs writing. shes become an auto-buy author for me - thats how much i love her storytelling.

this particular book is simple. it doesnt have quite the same heaviness and impact her later books do, but i think the simplicity really works well with this story. it makes it become more about the characters, rather than the message, and i found myself really enjoying the characters. all of them, even the side ones, are complex and i felt like i knew them on a significant level.

i also think this is the first book ive read that is set in the 1950. it was a strange sensation because obviously its historical fiction, but it sure felt like it was set in modern day. i guess i never realised just how progressive the 50s were. especially new orleans - i love the way the city was described in this and the atmosphere it created.

so another win for RS!

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
852 reviews3,882 followers
February 15, 2021
If I have *had* dark rings under my eyes at lunch today, it will was probably be because it's 6AM and I spent the whole night reading. Oops. Now, how could I have resisted? Out of the Easy is so damn charming. Wonderful settings, a flawed MC who makes mistakes but stays very relatable and likeable, secondary characters so lovable and true-to-life (Willie, Coky, Jesse, I want to hug them all), I couldn't stop reading, even if the mystery part was really predictable and a little ludicrous. Now, if you would excuse me, I'm gonna say hello good-buy to my coffee maker (that just became my new best-friend). Trop de café tue le café.

PS. There's a sort of a love-triangle, and you know what? I didn't mind one bit, because
1) the romance part was never overwhelming ;
2) for once, I found it believable and understandable ;
3) I was (very) pleased with the outcome^^

Therefore : I may be exhausted, but I'm smiling SO big, it was worth it (still worth every second of this very long day)

For more of my reviews, please visit:
Profile Image for A Mac.
813 reviews141 followers
June 27, 2023
Actual Rating 3.5

It’s 1950, and Josie lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans where she works at a bookshop and as a housekeeper at the brothel where her mother works. But she’s quickly becoming dissatisfied with her lot in life. With how much she reads, she yearns for more, and has secretly been saving money and harboring the hope of attending Smith College out east. But when a mysterious death occurs, Josie finds her loyalties to her mother, her mentor, and her friends tangling in a way that threatens to trap her.

This was an excellently written YA historical fiction that is largely character driven. I enjoyed how diverse the secondary characters were, both in their motivations and characterization. Josie was also written in a way that was relatable and approachable, making her an enjoyable protagonist. Because the characters were well written, the slow plot wasn’t an issue and actually made for quite an immersive and engaging read. I did want a bit more from Josie’s character (a little more depth and development to make her more realistic/intricate), but she was suitable enough as she’s written.

I did feel like the mystery was a little obvious right from the get-go. It wasn’t necessarily disappointing, but it did make me lose some interest in that aspect of the story. I also wanted more from the setting – it was a little bland for New Orleans in the ‘50s. For one example, the racism that was absolutely present during this time in Louisiana was nonexistent in the book, which left the setting feeling generic and a little lacking. A bit more depth in this area would have done wonders.

This was a quick and easy story that kept me entertained and was worth the read and enjoyable overall. If you enjoy YA historical fiction, you should check this one out.
Profile Image for K..
182 reviews726 followers
January 22, 2013
I'm reading Out of the Easy exactly a year after reading Between Shades of Gray. Sadly, the experience was as far and distinct as the setting in the two books. I was disappointed to say the least. Out of the Easy missed nearly every mark and lacked all the heartbreaking finesse we found in her first novel. Not that there isn't an emotional hook -- the subject matter, while not as ambitious as Between Shades of Gray, is one that could lift the spirit, offer all the grandiose hope we look for in art of all venues.

Out of the Easy is about Josie. She is the daughter of a prostitute, she lives in the Quarter, she works alternately between the bookshop and the brothel, and she is smart. She is smart and determined and optomistic. She dreams of attending college and finally getting out of dirty, wicked New Orleans. I see a pattern in Sepetys' writing: young women with a strong will and an inner compass they steer to get them to a better place. Inspiring. The idea is wonderful and I hope it's a pattern that continues. But life is a journey, not a destination, yes? And this book's journey is just simply...flat. Reading Out of the Easy gave me the distinct feeling of "going through the motions". This is a quick read, the chapters come and go in a blink of an eye. And I felt as if every scene was written and included because it is the formula.

I think I've figured out my problem with Sepetys: there just isn't enough. I felt that way with Between Shades of Gray and I feel it even more potently now. She doesn't given enough information, enough background, enough action, enoug of anything. Josie is a girl who has been made fun of all her life -- yet we don't really experience this alienation. Sure, some people turn away from her in a couple of scenes but not enough. Josie is supposed to be intelligent, a true scholar -- yet the only factors to explore this is her desire to attend school and her job in the bookshop. We see her badly wanting to be admitted but I would've liked to see her be the scholar, be this girl that is being described.

There is a love triangle (sort of) and Josie's reactions to both boys seem off and abrupt -- because again we are not given enough of her relationship with either boy to understand how or why she reacts the way she does. And with Josie herself. I never really got her. She seemed an Everyman reacting to the situations she's put in. Like she was a manifestation of all of us within the book and all she did was choose the path that would appease us all. She wasn't her own person. She didn't have quirks that made her solid and memorable. She was bread.

On a more positive note, the clouds did occasionally part and I caught glimpses of the writer I loved all those months ago. There were sudden slices of sincere heartache, ones that finally had me rooting for Josie. Slices, however, and sudden. There were also some colourful side characters -- but then, aren't they all? Anyway, they got me through. Some of them. Oh, and New Orleans. I think Sepetys did a fair enough job of transporting readers into this old, mythic, succulent and sinful place. It could've been more effecting but I will say that it was one of my lesser complaints.

So it was disappointment. I eventually found myself skimming near the end. I'm not giving up, though because I have this feeling that if Sepetys is inspired enough, and really, truly driven to tell a story of relevance as I think was the case with Between Shades of Gray (not so much with Out of the Easy), I think it will be marvelous. Maybe next January... See you then.

This review also appears on The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.

Note: This review was made possible by Wendy. Thank you, Darling.
Profile Image for booknuts_.
761 reviews1,194 followers
January 25, 2016
Wow.... I mean wow.... This book was so captivating! This book is all about this quote from the book,"Decisions, they shape our destiny." And this book tells you that in any given circumstance, whatever life deals you, in the end it's YOUR choice of how you want to shape who you are and make your life.

The author was able to bring to life with the descriptions and vivid details of the New Orleans during a rough time. Not only did she barely touch on the "Uptown" families, she thoroughly devoted most of the book towards the underground and hidden slums of New Orleans in the 1950's. Times and places we didn't focus on during that time or realize were truly there. She was so descriptive I couldn't put it down!

The main character Josie is an amazing character who always sought for something MORE from this life, she sought and new and better way of living. She is the seventeen-year old daughter of a French Quarter prostitute. She knew what she was surrounded with and knew it wasn't right. She was able to "escape" through books as she works in a book store, and the kindness of others that sheltered her as best they could from what she could have easily succumbed to.
Josie (love the name) is smart and well read, independent, gutsy, even knows how to shoot a gun, witty. Josie also works at her mother's brothel for Willie, the madam and cleans up the messes after parties and such. So Josie is exposed to that sort of life constantly and sees what that sort of life is.

I absolutely loved Willie even though she was rough around the edges. She's ballsy and doesn't take crap from nobody. Willie keeps her away from ever becoming a prostitute but also can't see beyond her own world. I so badly wanted to know more about her and what was her story. You get to learn a little just enough to satisfy you but there is such and intense desire to know more about HER.

There's also a whole slew of other characters that you just love Cokie, Willie's driver, Patrick, Josie's best friend and co-worker at the bookstore.

I loved this book. I really did. It was amazing and beautifully written and I thought it was tasteful especially when dealing with this topic and era.

Sexual Content: moderate/heavy
Violence: mild
Language: moderate (I think.)
Drugs/Alcohol: mild
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,538 reviews9,967 followers
November 22, 2015

I wasn't sure I was going to like this book, but I was pleasantly surprised that I did :) I fell in love with so many characters in the book. I felt so bad for Josie having a mother who was a prostitute and didn't care for her at all. The brothel her mom was living in was owned by a woman named Willie and I really loved her. Willie's character was of a good woman, even though she ran a brothel. She was kind to those that needed to be kind to and put people right in their place if they needed that as well. I loved the fact that she became more of a mom to Josie than Josie's real mom. She taught her how to shoot guns and use her head. She gave her a job as a cleaner, unfortunately this involved cleaning up after all of the women after the fact the next day. Ewww!:)

For some reason, I kept picturing Willie as the character from one of my favorite movies, "Spirited Away". I kept picturing Yubaba when I read anything about Willie! LoL

The book is set in 1950's New Orleans as you can read in the blurb.



Josie lived above a bookstore that she also worked in, she lived there since she was a little girl of 12. The owner and author Charlie was very kind to her, she also worked with Charlie's son Patrick who was like a brother to her.

Josie's mom is trouble with a capital T. She seems to be in on stealing, murders, drugs and who knows what all else.

Josie meets a nice man that comes into the bookstore. She likes him because he seems like a really nice person and it seems there's not too many men like that around...but..he gets murdered and this really upsets Josie, there is a lot more to it but I won't get into that.

Josie decides she wants to try to get into a prestigious college away from New Orleans and does some really smart things to try to help her get there! Josie has had so many let downs in her life.

There is another character I love in the book, it's Cokie, he is Willie's driver. He loves driving around in Willie's Caddy :) He is a really sweet character. Some of the girls at the brothel are very sweet to Josie too. There is also a nice guy named Jesse that I had a crush on and it seemed Josie did too :)

The characters in this book are rich in detail and the way the author weaves the story makes you think your right there with Josie!

The ending was sad and brought tears to my eyes.. well a few things brought tears to my eyes.. tears of sadness and tears of happiness.

I was all over the place with this review, but Lord, I was trying my best not to give out spoilers! I have a hard time with that, I would liked to have talked in more detail about people and what all went on, I will just say... read the book :)

I look forward to reading more books by this author as this was my first by her :)

Profile Image for May.
Author 11 books8,594 followers
June 27, 2016
Primer libro que leo que trata la prostitución como debe. Ole Ruta. Ole.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,922 followers
March 29, 2013
Reading Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys lead me to conclude that there aren’t enough YA books set in a) the 1950’s and b) New Orleans. And yet, only a writer of Sepetys’ skill and confidence could have successfully written such a story. Out of the Easy is a murder mystery first, a coming of age story second, and about twenty other things in between. It is a story of great complexity, and yet paradoxically, it is also a very simple one.

With Out of the Easy, Sepetys’ confirmed that she’s not merely a writer of YA historical fiction, but that she’s a Writer and that she measures up to the very best. She is able to make her authorial voice completely invisible, thus allowing her characters to fully form and take center stage.

Out of the Easy rose from its pages to create a story that unfolded right in front of my eyes, more like a play than anything else. I wasn’t a reader, not exactly - Sepetys had allowed me to become a spectator instead. All I had to do was sit back and watch as the setting materialized in front of me into a full audio-visual and olfactory experience.

The characters weren’t far behind. As soon as Josie Moraine spoke her first sentence (“My mother’s a prostitute.”), I knew we were going to get along, and we did. Each of us has wanted to be someone else somewhere else at least once in our lives, but for Josie, it’s a matter of survival. All she ever wanted was to be normal, to be able to live and learn like everyone else, without her mother’s constant malicious meddling. Josie’s voice was clear as bell, and she spoke to me until her problems became my problems and her heartache my heartache as well.

Willie said normal was boring and that I should be grateful that I had a touch of spice. She said no one cared about boring people, and when they died, they were forgotten, like something that slips behind the dresser. Sometimes I wanted to slip behind the dresser. Being normal sounded perfectly wonderful.

But Josie was not alone – each of the characters was so unique, so alive and vibrant – that they completely took over the story and left their author far behind. Or so it seemed.

This is where Ruta Sepetys’ skill truly shows. Her writing style is so clear, so completely transparent that it never gets in the way of the story. This ability (or rather a choice) makes even the characters’ emotions seem more genuine, not forced or manipulated, but as real as yours or mine.

It’s best that you go into this book knowing as little as possible, not because it hides some staggering surprise, but because its beauty is almost impossible to put into words. The only way is to experience everything for yourself, and if you ask me, that’s exactly what you should do.

Profile Image for Stacia (the 2010 club).
1,045 reviews3,982 followers
August 15, 2013
How many college girls cleaned cathouses?

I was watching a show on t.v. today and heard the over-used phrase You can't have your cake and eat it too, to which I replied, "Why not?" When in the history of ever has someone had the dilemma of being given a piece of cake which they weren't allowed to eat (dietetic reasons don't count)? Why would you ever want to have a piece of cake if you couldn't eat it? I have to go with Marie Antoinette and her stance of letting people eat cake...or not, as it turns out that she didn't really say this.

What does my book review have to do with cake, you ask? New Orleans was the cake that I wanted to eat but never got to. Out of the Easy should have delivered on the promise of New Orleans. A few mentions of brick dust (it's a voodoo thing), Mardi Gras, and dropping the names of famous streets, struggled to fully cement the atmosphere of life at a brothel in the Big Easy during the mid-twentieth century. I longed to be a part of the surroundings and never quite felt like I made it there in full capacity.

Since this wasn't a setting-driven book, we're left to look at the styles of story-driven and character-driven. I would consider Out of the Easy to be a little bit of both, but if I had to pick a stronger point, I'd be likely to fall on the character-driven side. The cast of characters were an eclectic bunch. From the snappy madam to the kindly driver, each person had a certain quality which made them unique.
"You're named after a madam. I'm named after a murderer. Mine's worse."

There were offbeat characters. There was a murder mystery. There were the obstacles of prejudice to overcome. There was the the tale of a woman coming-of-age, and how she had to learn to make her own way in the world, outside of her mother's stigma as a prostitute.

I first fell in love with Ruta Sepetys' writing with her now well-known book Between Shades of Gray, which was absolutely brilliant and showcased the passion that one writer could have in wanting to bring a hidden story to life (she went on her own pilgrimage to find out the history of her people in order to write the book). Even though I appreciated and enjoyed Sepetys' effort with Out of the Easy, I think I mentally set the bar high in hoping that this book would equal my strong feelings for BSOG. While I found Out of the Easy an engaging read, I don't know if I ever fully attached to the story in the way I would have liked to.

Even so, I still have so much love for her style of writing. I'm pretty sure that I'd read anything this author put out there. She has this way of drawing you in through beautiful prose and small hints of things to come. With both of her books, there was an underlying message of holding on to hope. The reader wants to hope for more for these characters.

Jo wanted to get Out of the Easy. I wanted her to get out as well. This is why I kept reading, to see if she could make her dreams reality.

I still don't know if I want to go 3 or 4 on the rating. If it changes, my apologies.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,332 reviews2,145 followers
August 7, 2016
My third book by this author and it was just as much a pleasure to read as the previous two. Sepetys has a delightful way with words and her characters and their settings are always so well written.
In this case the setting is New Orleans, the 'wrong' part of it, and our main character, Josie, is struggling to make something better of herself. She is guided and assisted by a number of friends and I loved the way her relationships were depicted. By the end of the book I was very attached to Jesse in particular and of course to the redoubtable Willie.
This was a book I did not want to put down and also one which had me reaching for the tissues towards the end. I sincerely hope Ruta Sepetys is busy right now creating her next beautiful novel!
Profile Image for Taury.
559 reviews125 followers
September 30, 2022
WoW! I have to say when I first heard of this book, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys I assumed it was about something from the 1920s due to the title. Well imagine my surprise when I start listening to words like prostitutes, pimps and whore followed by 1952! I sure wasn’t disappointed when I got into it. Such a good book! Towards the end I even cried some tears! Out of the Easy takes place in New Orleans during the 1950s. It is full of adventures, romance and some prostitution. Along the way a few dead bodies and a run away.
Profile Image for Renu (The Page Turner).
96 reviews119 followers
December 22, 2015
"The only reason I'd lift my skirt is to pull out my pistol and plug you in the head."

1950, New Orleans. Josie, the daughter of a heartless and uncaring brothel prostitute dreams of escaping the Big Easy, and going to college. She wants nothing more than to start fresh, and leave behind the whispers that follow her every waking step...

Josie is one of the strongest YA heroines I've ever come across. She moved way from home into an apartment on top of a bookshop at the sheer age of 11, and now (at the age of 17) works there. Her cruel and selfish mother neglects her, steals from her, and obsesses over a abusive man that reeks of trouble. But, despite all of this, Josie is not one to dwell on her misfortunes, instead she soldiers on, determined to one day achieve her dreams.

Out of The Easy features a colourful cast of characters. My favourite character by far, though, has to be Willie, the madame of the brothel. I think this description "wicked stepmother with the fairy godmother heart" fits her well. Despite her ice-y exterior, she cares deeply for Josie. She was a brilliant, if not unconventional mother figure.

Jesse, with his leather jacket and motorbike quickly won me over. His quiet and shy demeanour slowly gives way to an intelligent and charming young man. The blossoming romance between Jesse and Josie is very subtle, it develops at a steady place and is honestly just down right swoon worthy.

I appreciated Sepetys portrayal of the prostitutes, she shows that they're not tragic, bitter characters, instead they're just like us - they have feelings and do what they have to do to survive. Strong, funny, and caring these women oddly found a place in my heart.

I never would have picked this up before I became a book blogger. YA historical fiction is just one of the many genres that book blogging has introduced me to, and for that I am grateful. Out of The Easy is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story that has quickly made it to my favourites shelf.

This review also appears on my blog, The Page Turner.
Profile Image for Drew.
450 reviews501 followers
September 13, 2016
This was such a compelling historical fiction novel. Am I the only one who feels like a lot of books in this genre can get too descriptive with historical fact, and thus become boring? With Out of the Easy, however, I truly couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

I loved the characterization of different people in New Orleans in 1950, how Sepetys captured their lives, the good and ugly parts. Our protagonist, Josie, is an inspiring, independent girl with huge dreams to go to college, but she is held back because her mother is a prostitute.

Ever since she was seven, Josie has been a housemaid and occasional bartender to the brothel where her mother works. Josie knows no decent college would accept a "salted peanuts" girl from the French Quarter with a stained lineage like hers.

“This town will eat you up if you’re not careful. But I won’t be here forever.”

This small glimpse into Josie's life was a sad and frustrating one. Perverted men would repeatedly ask Josie if she was planning on "following her mother's footsteps" and their advances on her made me so angry.

Josie was disgusted by her neglectful mother who would rather run off with an abusive criminal than look after her own daughter; it was a good sign when I found my heart aching for Josie, as it meant that I truly cared for her.

Josie had supportive friends in her life, too. Patrick, who helped run the bookstore, Jesse the mechanic, and even the madam of the brothel, Willie. These people were low class, but unlike Josie's despicable mother, they were actually kind and compassionate human beings. The message was that it doesn't matter what your background is, whether you're rich or poor, so long as you are loving to others.

“Let me tell you something 'bout these rich Uptown folk,” said Cokie. “They got everything that money can buy, their bank accounts are fat, but they ain’t happy. They ain’t ever gone be happy. You know why? They soul broke. And money can’t fix that.”

Josie's story was a quiet, moving, and immersive one. Brimming with romance, secrets, and murder, I couldn't get enough of the plot. Also, Josie was an awesome heroine and never let scumbags tell her what to do:

“What do you do with all this bank, Josie? Be a lot easier if you just lifted your skirt.”
“The only reason I’d lift my skirt is to pull out my pistol and plug you in the head.”
Profile Image for Shannon A.
674 reviews532 followers
July 18, 2016
4.5 stars

Another great story crafted by Ruta. I really enjoyed this!
Profile Image for annelitterarum.
244 reviews1,482 followers
August 22, 2021
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews2,005 followers
March 14, 2013
Review posted originally at The Book Smugglers

Warning: Out of the Easy is a historical novel set in New Orleans. In this review I refer to sex workers as “prostitutes” and “whores” just as in the book.

Warning: there are some spoilers in this review.


Ruta Septety’s Out of the Easy is the author’s sophomore novel after the highly acclaimed Between Shades of Grey. It’s a historical novel, set in the 50s in New Orleans, featuring teenager Josie Moraine whose first person morose, contemplative narrative is the book’s best feature alongside its historical framing.

The story follows Josie’s life in the French Quarter of New Orleans and her attempt to create a new life for herself, hopefully in a college over at the East, where nobody knows who she is. She is the daughter of a prostitute, and has suffered the stigma of prostitution her whole life: the whispers, the snickers, the pitying, the expectation she would turn up just like her mother follows wherever she goes. Even her name – Josie – is a prostitute’s name, her mother choosing it after a madam from her own youth.

Josie’s life is hard – working two jobs just to be able to maintain herself and to save money to go away to college. She is an assistant at a bookstore where she works with fellow booklover, friend and potential love interest Patrick. Patrick’s father Charlie is Josie’s father figure, supportive and friendly and whose declining mental health has been a great source of stress and sadness for Josie.

She is also a cleaner at one of New Orleans’ biggest brothels, the one belonging to Madam Willie, where her mother works. She is there every morning to clean up after the long hours of work and to work as an assistant to Willie. It also doesn’t help that her mother is a terrible person, an absent mother and a thief. To make things worse, a wealthy tourist gets killed after visiting Josie’s bookstore – and the mystery of this death might be linked to her mother’s recent activities.

This is the very basic summary of the book – the starting point for a story that intertwines different strands – all of which contributing to the main push to Josie’s departure from New Orleans.

There is something about Out of the Easy that made me incredibly uneasy – I have been thinking about why it was so since I finished reading it and I think it might have to do with the focus and frame of the story. There is a lot of disconnect between what the book tells me and what the story shows me.

It makes me uneasy that the stigma, prejudice and difficulty of prostitution is examined from the point of view of a character who is not a prostitute.

It makes me uneasy because of how this is framed. Please bear with me as I break down the main conflicting points:

The main character and narrator, is a prostitute’s daughter who works at a brothel as a cleaner. This brothel is one of the biggest ones in Nola and its madam a force to be reckoned with publicly and privately – the madam runs the brothel in a way that makes it a safe, healthy place for her girls, which is awesome. All the prostitutes there are portrayed as well-adjusted and moderately happy. You could also say they are all prostitutes with a heart of gold who have more of less have “adopted” the main character. In fact, the madam is Josie’s surrogate mother, friend, protector and confidant. Her actual mother is an Evil Whore and a Gold Digger. All of these women – apart from her mother – worry about Josie, want to protect her reputation and hope she will not become a prostitute – because they want better for her. Everybody thinks she is too good to be a prostitute and there is a great moment of tension in the novel where the main character is driven to almost become one because she needs money urgently but eventually she doesn’t do it and as such is shown as being morally superior.

So there is this clash between what the novel tells me (prostitution = not a good life; better not live it) and what it shows me (actual prostitutes in the novel = well-adjusted, moderately happy) and this clash could have been interesting as a complex portrayal of prostitution had it not been for the fact that this is only explored in a divided way – this is not a good life for JOSIE but hey, it is a good life for everybody else because what? They are suited to it? They are not as good as Josie? This is all the more obvious if one thinks at how there is a question of purity that is woven in the story. Although Josie is smart and capable of taking care of herself, she is also extremely naïve – but only when the text expected her to be. She barely registers the interest from her two suitors and when she kisses them, there is barely any focus on how she feels about it. But then she does immediately register when older men leer or touch her. She is squeaky clean in her connections to the people she might love but it’s almost as though sex is established as a bad thing and I don’t think this is actually addressed at all. And although I appreciate the fact that Josie as a character might think of sex as bad thing because of how she might connect it to prostitution, I would have wanted to see this actually explored in meaningful ways. This aspect is insidious, subtly presence in the narrative but definitely there.

I am asked to sympathise and understand the plight of someone who is not a prostitute at the same time that it shows me the prostitutes of the novel as living an almost glamorous life. There is social stigma and prejudice but only from the perspective of someone who is not an actual prostitute. I find this really troubling. I had hoped that the social stigma, sexism and patriarchy that is present in Josie’s life to have been examined in a wider context – how does it affect the people that actually live that life?

That said, it is very interesting that the main focus here is how Josie’s life is terrible because of said stigma. BUT even though she repeats that continuously, we see very little of her actual troubles with said stigma. Instead, what we do see is how she has this incredible support system in which the prostitutes, the madam, the madam’s employees, as well as a myriad of friends in the French Quarter and two love interests all love and protect her. All the time. Even the narrative is extremely supportive of Josie: in the end, the madam dies, leaving Josie well-off and therefore solving all of her immediate problems magically.

I also question how the problem of class is explored here – New Orleans is a setting rife for this exploration with the social and economic divides between those in the French Quarter and those Uptown. However, this clash, this difference, is explored only in superficial, stereotypical ways: the rich are only pretending to be happy with the books they don’t read and the pianos they don’t play. It’s all a façade that hides horrible people:

“Let me tell you something ’bout these rich Uptown folk,” said Cokie. “They got everything that money can buy, their bank accounts are fat, but they ain’t happy. They ain’t ever gone be happy. You know why? They soul broke. And money can’t fix that, no sir.”
Meanwhile, the lives of the bohemians, intellectuals, criminals in the French Quarter, despite all the difficulty, are much richer, authentic, better. I have no patience for this simplistic approach.

The book does do a good job at showing another side of prostitution and I appreciated how the prostitutes weren’t tragic figures. I do think there is merit to Josie’s story and experience as the daughter of a prostitute. I just feel it is disingenuous how this story was explored and I am afraid this overshadowed any and all the positives.

Basically, I really don’t know what this book is attempting to do here but I do feel that this story lacks honesty in the development of the story. In some ways it is a book that lacks nuance – you know, a few shades of grey would have done it tons of good.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,450 reviews1,109 followers
September 17, 2019
This is the second book I have read by Ruta Sepetys and I must say she is quickly becoming a favorite author to me! This is a well researched, beautifully written 1950's historical. You really get the feel of being in New Orleans in 1950.

Josie (Jo) is a very well written character. She is strong, intelligent and very realistic. She is an extremely believable character with a good blend of strengths and flaws. She is a teenage girl who lives on her own, and wants desperately to get out of New Orleans and go to college. With a prostitute for a mother and no known father her goal seems to be a pipe dream. A sick friend, and a murder mystery just adds to her troubles.

Her mother is an evil piece of work. I loathe her. One of the most self-centered ladies ever! What she does to Jo in this book buts the word awful to shame! Then there is Willie who runs the whorehouse where Jo cleans and her mother sells herself. It took the longest time to make up my mind about her. I like her no nonsense attitude but I always felt that she was hiding something. Then there is Cokie. I loved Cokie. He is the driver for Willie and acts like a uncle and friends to Jo. I think I could have a great time hanging out with him, sweet and fun as he is!

There is a bit a love triangle between her, Patrick and Jesse. Jesse is the ladies man mechanic of the Quarter with a bit of a 'bad boy' edge. Patrick is the son of the owner of the bookstore where she lives and works. The smart intellect, caring for his ill father. Now while I say love triangle it is very mild through a lot of it. It is not drawn out like so many other books these days. Very simple and plausible.

The way everything is written out is perfect. From the clothing, the whorehouse, the Quarter in general.... Every scene was very visible in my mind. You really feel like you are right there with Josie at all times. Seeing, tasting and smelling everything she does. It has a slightly artistic edge and it very evident that Ruta took her time to research New Orleans and the time period. This book comes with my full recommendation for all teenagers and adults.
Profile Image for Merna .
110 reviews389 followers
October 28, 2019
Out of the easy is rather a simple story if you dig under the layers of the plot. The story should have been slightly more complex for a historical fiction. I’m not particular sure if it intended to inform me about life in New Orleans back in the 50’s, because nothing was added to my knowledge that I didn’t already expect of 50’s New Orleans. Out of the easy taught me the importance of social class and your background in 50’s New Orleans and...basically that’s all. I felt the racism was greatly toned down. This is 50's Louisiana, right? In the 60s they threatened a small black girl with death for daring to attend a majority white school? I can only imagine how horrible Louisiana was in its pre-civil rights days.

“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.”

So from the opening paragraph you can already guess there was going to be major mummy issues. This book was based on mummy issues. I thought there might be some fights between the heroine and her mother about her being a prostitute. But the would have been too ‘simple’. Instead, the mother had to be the most cold-hearted parent that every existed – or that’s how she’s portrayed. Well, she’s not far from being the worst, however, the constant mention of all the bad things the heroine’s mother had done got extremely tiring.

Josie, on other hand, is the opposite of her mother. She’s intelligent, demanding and caring. I’m not particularly sure how many times the secondary characters had to mention that Josie is intelligent, but they did it enough times that I finally remembered. You know, I can’t simply understand the first time, so you have to do it again and again and again.

Cincinnati is the primary antagonist of the novel. He works for a mafia apparently. He once beat Josie’s mum and her close friend’s father. He he has done a list of other terrible things that Josie mentions.

“There was something ice-cold, dead in Cincinnati.”

Really Josie, after everything you told me…you think so?


Now, I ain't no sherlock but...

The love triangle was actually…unique. It was different and I never thought it would turn out the way it did. The romance is somewhat the positive aspect of this story.

The mystery is the negative aspect of the story since the author clearly makes it obvious who committed the crime. I kept thinking “No, the author is trying to trick me. It’s not who I expect. It’s someone different.” But it was exactly who I expected.

Character development was decent, and the book was fast-paced which I loved, but the ending was rushed and I felt things happened to quickly and came together far too perfectly at the end.

This feels more like a negative review when I go over it, but it's an okay novel. It's not bad. It’s just not a good historical novel. I still rated it four stars because as I was reading, I desperately wanted to found out how everything turns out for Josie. I was addicted. It was entertaining.

Some might enjoy/others might not. But overall I would suggest this.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,834 reviews427 followers
July 18, 2023
This book was a really good but tough read. A lot of very intense content. Such is to be expected from Ruta Sepetys. This is the third book I have read of hers, and I love her ability to bring to life historical hardships realistically brilliantly—this time, she has taken on the "Big Easy" from the early 1950s.

Jo has such a hard life. She may be prone to tears, but she is truly "tough as nails." She doesn't give up, and she keeps pushing. I love that no matter what hardship she runs into, she sticks by the values within her heart and soul and does not budge, even at the last minute.

As a mother, it was very hard to read about Jo's mother. She is easily a winner for the worst mother of the year, several times running. Jo is so amazing and deserves so much more, but luckily she has some people nearby to look after her.

Some ends remained loose at the end of the story, but in a way that happens in life. This was a very well-written 4 star read.
Profile Image for Sharlene Hammond.
56 reviews2 followers
January 27, 2018
After finishing “Salt to th Sea”, I knew I had to add the rest of Ruta Sepetys’ books to my list.

“Out of the Easy” absolutely did not disappoint. Lovable characters (I instantly adored Cokie), and such a fantastic story.

Thank you, Ruta!
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
February 13, 2013
The strength in Sepetys language is in her character development and that her characters are for the most part extremely likable. The French Quarter in the 1950,s and a story based on an actual madame, in fact the house she actually lived in is part of this book. Liked the atmosphere of this story and really like the fact that she has such strong young females in unusual circumstances as the main focus in both her books. This one is part mystery, part love story, part quest and the struggle in suceeding despite the cards one is dealt in life. Also a big part of this book is that family are those who care about you, not necessarily those who are related to one by blood. Wonder what this author will tackle next.
Profile Image for Galadrielė.
294 reviews146 followers
April 10, 2019

DNF @ pg 45

It's not like the other R. S. books. And I didn't find interest in this one.

Plot and writing style felt very fake, unnatural, like the author was trying to imitate that she can write a book.
Profile Image for Morana Mazor.
373 reviews74 followers
November 17, 2015
Prekrasna, topla priča o Josie koja, uz majku prostitutku i niz osebujnih likova, odrasta u ozloglašenoj, Francuskoj četvrti New Orleansa. Ona radi u knjižari, čisti bordel, biva uvučena u istragu ubojstva, ali vođena svojim jakim karakterom i ambicijom, hrabro kroči ka svom cilju- upisu na prestižni koledž Smith. U njezinoj borbi pomažu joj ljudi koji je okružuju, a uz koje je ne vežu rodbinske nego sudbinske veze koje su, ponekad, one najjače.
Nije ovo ni prva ni zadnja priča o ljudima koji su lišeni roditeljskog doma i ljubavi onda kada im je to najpotrebnije, ali Soba puna snova je zasigurno jedna od najljepših koje sam čitala. Velika preporuka svima..!
February 6, 2017

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Reading this book seemed to take forever, and it took me a while to figure out why I kept setting it aside. On the surface, OUT OF THE EASY is everything I like in young adult fiction: interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters, a flawed and often selfish heroine, real world issues dealt with in a real and darkly edgy way, and a bit of romance that doesn't overshadow the story. All of these things are wonderful, and the story is written in lovely prose that's easy to read and invites you to enjoy yourself. "Come on in," it would say, if it were a person. "Settle down, put up your feet, and I'll put on the tea while I tell you a story."

The problem is, I just couldn't bring myself to care about any of it. Part of that may be because OUT OF THE EASY is a mostly character-driven story. Part of that may be because I'm burned out on heroines with abusive mothers who have to carve their way out of the trenches in order to save themselves. I've heard that story a hundred times over since the first time I read WHITE OLEANDER. The heroine in OUT OF THE EASY, Josie, is the daughter of a whore and desperately wants to leave New Orleans, to be free of her neglectful and self-centered mother to start her own life. After she meets another young woman in the bookstore she works in, she decides she wants to go to one of the fancy colleges in New England, rather than one in Louisiana. Then a murder happens, and her mother may or may not be involved in it, and poor Josie is swept up in the mystery of it all, as well as applying for and saving for college and eluding various sinister villains.

Despite all that, there isn't a lot of action. Most of the scenes involve Josie walking around, talking to people or running errands. Or working in the bookshop. Or talking to Willie, the madam of the whorehouse Josie's mother works at. I was really disappointed, because all my friends swear by this author. They rave about this one and about her more famous one too, SHADES OF GREY. Given all that hype, I was really surprised that OUT OF THE EASY fell so flat for me, because the people who were reviewing it so highly were people whose opinions I hold in very high regard.

If you enjoy intimate and intricate character stories where the focus is on the look and feel of the characters peppering the world of the narrator, then you will enjoy OUT OF THE EASY, because all of the characters are colorful, and they all get a say. You'll get to relax and put up your feet, and the story will take its sweet time unfolding for you while you soak in the essence of 1950s New Orleans. If you are looking for a fast-paced story with a lot of action, however, and prefer to be on the edge of your feet instead of putting them up and kicking back, OUT OF THE EASY may be too slow-paced for you.

2 stars
Profile Image for [~Ami~]♥Sexy Dexy♥ .
501 reviews454 followers
February 6, 2016
3 stars

To be fair I did DNF a few books before this so that's something. The characters were interesting enough for me to find out how it will all end. This one felt a bit slower than her other book. Also it was somewhat of a love triangle but it was obvious which way the book will end.
Profile Image for Heather.
572 reviews
November 5, 2012
Read all my reviews at http://www.flyleafreview.com

5/5 Stars

Lately, I'm finding that with every work of historical fiction I read that I am growing to love this genre more and more. Why? Because it's a window to another world, not a world of fantasy or of the paranormal, but a world, that for one moment in time, existed in our own. And Out of the Easy does what all good historical fiction should do: it teaches the reader while entertaining them at the same time. Are you a fan of historical fiction? No? Why not? Do you think history and historical fiction is boring and stuffy? Ha! Not the way Ruta Sepetys tells it.

You could say that Out of the Easy is a story about a poor girl, daughter of a prostitute, growing up in a brothel in New Orleans circa 1950. And yes, that is what this book is about if you want the skin and bones version. But really this book is about people. People living day to day just like the rest of us. The cast of characters in Out of the Easy is colorful to be sure, but they are just regular people. No one has super powers and no one saves the world. But the manner in which author Ruta Sepetys is able to take these ordinary folks and their everyday lives and turn them into something so much MORE, is truly astounding.

Josie, a Detroit native, came to New Orleans with her mother when she was just seven. The opening chapter documents the first time she meets Willie Woodley, the madam of one of the best known brothels in New Orleans. You see, Josie's mom Louise has decided to cut her losses in Detroit and return to Willie's to resume work as a prostitute. Josie is pretty no nonsense about all of this. Her mom is a whore (their words, not mine) and that's that. Fast forward ten years and it's 1950, and Josie, now seventeen, is working in an antiquarian bookstore and living in the small apartment above it. Josie has recently graduated high school (that's right folks, this book is New Adult!) and dreams of attending college anywhere but in New Orleans. Josie has got to get out of the Big Easy.

Josie is clever, both book smart AND street smart, funny, and wanting more than what life has given her so far. In fact, she's ambitious and motivated and not above minor (and not so minor) manipulations to achieve her goal. But there is so much more to Josie. She's wise beyond her years but she is still so very young and naive. She's loyal and loving, she's courageous and fearful, and she is a survivor.

You might look at Josie's story and think "Wow. That girl has had it rough." Raised by a selfish, ignorant and abusive mother, never knowing who her father is, and basically forced into an adult world few of us will ever have to experience, it's easy to see why she is a survivor. Had she not been, she would never have made it through. But as Out of the Easy continues, and we are introduced to the people in Josie's life, it becomes just as clear that this girl, the daughter of a whore, has been fortunate enough to be surrounded by people who not only love her and look after her, but BELIEVE in her. This is the magic of Out of the Easy.

It's all about the characters, you guys. And there are many of them. There is Patrick, the son of the bookstore owner who is Josie's best friend and confidant, but harbors a secret. There's Jesse, the leather clad, motorcycle riding, swoony boy that all the girls, both in the Quarter and Uptown, chase after (think the greasers in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, only hotter.) There are the prostitutes at Willie's Conti Street bordello: Sweetie, Dora and Evangeline, all of whom shine in their own way. There is Charlotte, the girl who attends Smith College, who becomes Josie's idol. There is the smarmy and shady Uptown banker, Mr. Lockwell who may hold the key to Josie's getting out of New Orleans. There is Cincinnati, Josie's mother's mobster boyfriend and there is Forrest L. Hearne, the businessman who wanders into the bookstore on New Year's Eve and changes Josie's life forever.

All of these characters, and a few others I haven't mentioned, are incredible studies in human nature. And all are larger than life, even if the role they play in Out of The Easy is a small one. But there are two people in Out of the Easy that steal the show, and they're the ones closest to Josie: Willie Woodley and Cokie Coquard.

The character of Willie Woodley is based on a real life woman known as the last madam of New Orleans, Norma Wallace. In fact Norma's brothel, located at 1026 Conti Street is the residence that author Ruta Sepetys based Willie Woodley's place of business on. Willie is shrewd, sharp, sarcastic, outspoken, and a damn smart business woman. She's got politicians and law enforcement in her pocket and she runs a tight ship. Willie is brutally honest, she hold no punches, and she was someone I liked immediately. When I think of Willie I think of Bette Davis, smoking a cigarette and cutting some poor man to ribbons with just a simple look. When Willie is introduced in the first few pages of the book, it's not clear what kind of relationship Josie will have with her. But as the story progresses, it's apparent that Willie looks after Josie, in ways her mother Louise never did. Josie nails it when she describes Willie as "The wicked stepmother with the fairy godmother heart." She is a truly awesome character, one of the best I've read this year, and one that I will always remember.

If Willie's the step mother to Josie, then Cokie, Willie's quadroon driver, is the doting surrogate dad. Guys, Cokie Coquard makes my heart melt. Willie, who deep down is generous and loving, keeps it hidden on the inside. But Cokie loves Josie unconditionally and isn't afraid to show it. Josie met Cokie on that first night in New Orleans when he drove her and her mother to Willie's place and the two have been friends ever since. There is a lot to love about this character but here are a couple of examples. It's Cokie's wisdom:

"Let me tell you something 'bout these rich Uptown folk," said Cokie. "They got everything that money can buy, their bank accounts are fat, but they ain't happy. They ain't ever gone be happy. You know why? They soul broke. And money can't fix that, no sir."

And his warmth:

"Why you frettin', Jo? You not sure?"

I inhaled my tears in order to speak. "I'm sure I want to go, but I'm not sure it's possible.Why would they accept me? And if they did, how would I pay for it? I don't want to get my hopes up only to be disappointed. I'm always disappointed."

"Now don't let fear keep you in New Orleans. Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin' we're goin' one place and we end up another. But that's okay. The important thing is to start. I know you can do it. Come on, Josie girl, give those ol' wings a try."

"Willie doesn't want me to."

"So what, you gonna stay here just so you can clean her house and run around with all the naked crazies in the Quarter? You got a bigger story than that."

Cokie, above all, believes in Josie and knows she's something special. There are so many moments in Out of the Easy where I just wanted to jump into the book and give him a giant hug.

Let's move on to another aspect of Out of the Easy that one could argue is a character in it's own right: the city of New Orleans. I'm lucky enough to live a short drive away from this charismatic city and although I never visited New Orleans back in the 1950s, I can tell you that Ruta Sepetys does a awesome job bringing the city to life. We all know the voodoo storylines and the vampire storylines when it comes to NOLA. And those are all cool things of which I'm certainly a fan. But what about the feel of everyday New Orleans? The feel of the French Quarter when compared to the Garden District or Uptown? The feel of the Mardi Gras season as seen from the locals, not the tourists? Or, just the feel of one the oldest city's in the South in general? Ruta Sepetys did her homework and got it right.

The scent of Havana tobacco draped thick from the magnolia trees in the front yard. Ice cubes mingled and clinked against the sides of crystal tumblers. Patrick said hello to a group of men sitting on the veranda. I heard the pop of a champagne cork and laughter from inside.

Out of the Easy definitely has that lazy, laid back and sultry feel to it that is distinctly New Orleans, but is also an interesting study in the differences of class and socio-economic standing. We see it in Cokie's quote above about being "soul broke" but there are other references to the differences between someone like Josie and someone like Charlotte, the girl Josie meets who is on break from the Smith College, one of the prestigious 'Seven Sisters." I love when a book takes a closer look at society's "have's vs. have not's", and even though it's somewhat subtle in Out of the Easy, the undercurrent is still there.

I've talked about characters and I've talked about the setting but what about the story arc itself? It all comes down to this, the opening line from Charles Dickens' classic David Copperfield.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else...these pages must show.

What does it mean in less flowery terms? Decisions, they shape our destiny. Yes, a murder mystery does play out in Out of the Easy, involving a man Josie only briefly met but who made a lasting impression on her nonetheless. But to me this book is all about Josie growing up and facing some tough choices. Even with the strong support system of friends that she has in place, in the end, Josie is the one who must decide, for she is the one who will have to live with those decisions afterwards.

I have to wrap this review up, it's getting way too long, but you have to let me stop and rave about author Ruta Sepetys' skillful writing. Her characterizations are top notch, her dialogue is authentic, but what I love most about her writing is actually twofold. I LOVE her dry humor. Whether it's Willie's deadpan remarks:

"I've got a business to run. Elmo's bringing over a new bed frame. Dora broke her's last night. That girl should be in a side show, not a whorehouse."

or Patrick's take on Southern ways in a conversation with Charlotte:
"They drink like fish and ask the most probing questions."
"Welcome to the South." Patrick laughed.

or Josie's sarcastic inner dialogue as she meets with an instructor from Loyola University:

"Patrick explained that your father is absent. What about your mother, dear?"
Mother? Oh, she's in a dusty motel in California right now, cooling herself with a cold Schlitz in her cleavage.

Ruta Sepetys is a natural when it comes to humorous dialogue. Which makes it all the better when she also writes things like this:

If I poured all the lies I had told into the Mississippi, the river would rise and flood the city.


Charlie Marlowe never wrote horror, but somehow horror was writing Charlie Marlowe.

I wasn't certain of anything anymore, except that New Orleans was a faithless friend and I wanted to leave her.

Out of the Easy is one of those books you read and after it is finished you feel like you have experienced something really amazing. It's a book with a lot of heart, just like all the characters that Septey's showcases within it's pages. I know Ruta Septeys gained a lot of fans when she wrote Between Shades of Gray, and I believe she's going to keep them and make even more with her latest, Out of the Easy. I can say it's one of my favorite books of the year so far. It doesn't release until February of 2013, but if I were you, I'd go ahead and pre-order this one NOW.

5/5 Stars
Profile Image for Keertana.
1,127 reviews2,172 followers
March 24, 2013
Ruta Sepetys has made a fan out of me – at last. Although Sepetys has received much world-wide acclaim for her first novel, Between Shades of Gray, I found that her debut was less fiction and more history, leaving an impact on the reader merely because of the facts it was based upon. Out of the Easy, however, is a fictional tale with historical elements that simply add to the flavor of the tale. I may have given my tears to Between Shades of Gray, but I gave my heart and soul to Out of the Easy and am quite happy to leave them there.

As with any novel I usually love, Out of the Easy is a character-driven tale. It follows the journey of Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute, living in the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950. Unlike her mother, Josie is an educated young woman, aspiring to leave the prejudices of her station and pursue a better life. As with most teenagers, the only option of leaving comes through the opportunities provided by college. Thus, Josie sets her sights on attending Smith, a posh college in Massachusetts that a new – but close – acquaintance of hers, Charlotte, encourages her to apply to. With Josie’s mother off in California, it seems as if nothing can get in the way of Josie’s dreams. Until, that is, Forrest Hearne, a well-to-do gentleman who bonds with Josie over David Copperfield in the bookshop she works in, turns up dead on New Year’s Day. Josie, before even coming close to leaving the Big Easy, must first embrace the city she despises in a way she never had to before.

Out of the Easy is the type of novel that slowly works its way into your heart, imbedding its characters and setting deep inside of you until you wonder how you’ll breathe without them. Josie is a resourceful heroine: book-smart, street-smart, and gun-wielding – a package you don’t want to cross even on a good day. Although she’s grown up dreaming of the father she never knew and stuck with a mother who was more selfish than compassionate, Josie still has people in her life who care for her deeply. On one hand there is Willie, the cunning businesswoman who runs the brothel where Josie’s mother works and on the other hand is Charlie, the bookstore owner who allows Josie to live at his store in exchange for help around the shop. Josie also has Cokie, the driver who works for Willie and Patrick, Charlie’s son and one of her only friends.

What I love about Out of the Easy is that it paints a realistic and balanced picture of the French Quarter. Josie is a girl who is often judged for her circumstances, but these images are not all black and white. Although her life is no picnic, she has what a lot of people lack in this world – love. With that love - the love of a family that isn't necessarily related to her by blood - Josie is able to survive some of the most unusual, debilitating, and difficult situations. Furthermore, the people in Josie’s life do not fit into the boxes that society labels for them. Not all prostitutes are lusty women yearning for sex and nor are all men sexist creeps. Rather, Sepetys shows us the dual nature to everyone in the Big Easy – the faces they must wear to exist and the faces that show who they really are.

Even Josie, for all her pride at being above her mother’s station, wears these same masks, forced to keep secrets and lie for what she believes is the well-being of herself and others. It is this slow accumulation of lies, of hidden truths that Josie keeps within herself, that provides such an interesting plot line for this novel. It is part murder mystery, part self-discovery, and part historical recounting. Yet, although it tackles on a multitude of events and expanses over the lives of dozens of characters, painting them all in great depth, it never loses its focus. Moreover, it approaches everything – from college to parenting to romantic relationships – with a realistic eye. Josie may be smarter than those around her, but she is just as flawed.

I will admit, though, that Out of the Easy lacked that much-needed impact to propel it into a 5-Star read. For me, Sepetys always seems to fall short of this, even though I did certainly enjoy her sophomore novel more than her debut. It must be admitted, though, that Out of the Easy could have done with a tighter plot line. At many instances, information was revealed at moments when it would have been more prudent to mention them earlier, providing for a slightly choppy script. Moreover, a few of the circumstances did seem a tad bit too convenient, but I had such a strong understanding of Josie and the events that unfolded in her life that it was easy for me to overlook these minor qualms. Ultimately, Out of the Easy lived up to my expectations and delivered even beyond that. Josie is a character you don’t want to miss out on and her life is stunning and inspiring beyond anything else you are likely to pick up this year. I seem to be unable to get enough of historical fiction, lately, so I clearly need Sepetys’s next novel. Yesterday.

You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.
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