Monday, February 25, 2013
Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys
Title: Out of the Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Rating: 4 Stars
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.