Out Of The Easy by Ruta Sepetys – Review by Emma Williams

A few months ago, I was trying to figure out what book the Booksource  book club should read. Our book club consists of staff from our marketing, sales, and book collection development departments. Each month we meet to discuss a book that we think will work well in the K-12 school market. I felt that we had been reading a lot of fluff lately, and, as wonderful as fluff can be, I wanted to pick something of substance.

Usually, I have a ton of ideas for book club, but this month I had nothing, so I headed to The Vault. The Vault is a room at Booksource that sits behind a gazillion-pound lead door with a combination lock. It is where we store new book galleys from publishers. I kid you not. The lock doesn’t work, but we still find great amusement in the fact that we house our precious new reads in this stronghold. I wasn’t browsing for long before a name on a book spine jumped out at me—Ruta Sepetys! My heart leapt! I adored Between Shades Of Gray and was thrilled to find Ruta Sepetys’s second novel! (If you haven’t read Between Shades Of Gray yet, here is the official site and book trailer. It’s fantastic.)  The book was Out of The Easy. If this book was anything like Between Shades Of Gray, I knew that I had a found my book of substance!

Out Of The Easy takes place in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1950s and is told in the compelling voice of 17-year-old Josie Moraine. The book begins, “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.” After the opening, I was immediately drawn into Josie’s world.

On her own since the age of twelve, Josie lives above a used bookstore in the heart of the rowdy French Quarter where she works alongside the dashing young son of the store’s owner. She also works as a housemaid in the brothel in which her mother resides. Josie is tough, smart, and pretty, and dreams of getting out of the Big Easy and going to college. She saves every penny to achieve this dream.

Josie’s mom, as you might guess, is a pretty crummy excuse for a mother. At first, I pitied her, but, as her complete lack of humanity was revealed, I lost all compassion for her. Still, Josie has friends who fill the gap—people like the hard-nosed brothel Madam, and Cokie, the loving the taxi driver—who compensate for her mother’s lack. The intriguing characters Sepetys creates reflect the energy and color of New Orleans. Many of the usual suspects from the rowdy Crescent City show up, too— mobsters, southern “gentlemen,” prostitutes, hustlers, and cops. Josie shows no fear in dealing with the riffraff. She is one tough, street-smart girlie!

With all the shady characters hanging around, it’s not surprising that Josie cannot seem to escape the drama of the Big Easy. After a happenstance meeting at the bookshop with a gentleman from out of town, she becomes loosely involved in a murder case. She also starts to blackmail another “gentleman” in town (not that he doesn’t deserve to be blackmailed!) in order to get a letter of recommendation for college. Ultimately, Josie must overcome inner struggles and come clean to her surrogate family and ask for help if she ever wants to make it out of The Big Easy.

Out Of The Easy is definitely a book of substance—a book that will make readers want more! The characters and setting are, indeed, the standouts in this book, and I feel like it is an excellent gateway for more books that take place in or are about New Orleans. In book club, we reminisced about personal experiences in New Orleans, sharing stories of colorful real-life people who could have easily been characters in Out Of The Easy. Next time I visit I will walk through the French Quarter with a fresh perspective … imagining (or maybe spotting!) hustlers in the street and ladies of the night in the doorways. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more fascinating books about the Big Easy!

Ruta Sepetys’s book trailers are extraordinary! Here is the book site and  trailer for Out Of The Easy:

Emma is a Collection Development Specialist at Booksource. Emma’s super rad job involves putting together book collections that are ideal for the classroom library. When Emma isn’t reading or building book collections, she is outside in the sunshine! Emma loves to camp, hike, bike, run, and generally anything that gets the heart pumping and fresh air in the lungs.