New Orleans, French Quarter, 1950s. Josie is the daughter of a neglectful prostitute, and is being raised mostly by the house Madam (named Willie) and a quarter-black taxi driver named Cokie. Josie is smart and dreams of escaping New Orleans and going to college one day, but then her mom gets mixed up in a murder, and Josie’s plans start to fall down around her.
I have tried, several times, to read Ruta Sepetys’ first book, Between Shades of Gray. The subject interests me, but the book seems to be too intense for me (I dread from the very beginning what will come next). I’ve never made it more than a few chapters in, on audio or in print. Initially, I worried I’d have the same problem with Out of the Easy, but I was drawn in immediately, despite this being historical fiction (not a favorite of mine). I loved the characters and the setting. I love that we were able to see a different side to the lives of prostitutes, especially given the circumstances some of these women were in. I loved the contrast of French Quarter with uptown New Orleans. I loved that Sepetys didn’t take the easy way out all the way through the book.
It was this last point that really stood out to me. Three instances in particular showed this. First, there was the fact that Josie’s mother not only got away with murder and theft from the man she killed, but she also stole all of Josie’s money and possessions, she was never caught, and she stayed with a man who kept beating her. Second, Charlie never recovers from his illness, despite Josie’s hope that he might be trying to communicate at one point. Third, when Patrick admits to Josie that he’s in love with James, she flat-out doesn’t understand, and assumes he means he’s in love with Kitty (James’ girlfriend, in her mind) and that he’s worried James will be angry with him. It never even crosses her mind, until much later, what Patrick really means. All of these things are fantastically realistic, and unusual in a YA book.
The book wasn’t perfect. Some of the end, after Willie’s death, was a bit too easily wrapped up. I can’t buy, for instance, Charlotte not only forgiving Josie for her lies, but accepting her 100% even after knowing her history. There wasn’t enough information given about this. A lot of the ending is left very unclear. I would have preferred another couple chapters to flesh it all out. But other than that, it was a really well-rounded and well-constructed novel.