Friday, February 1, 2013

review: out of the easy

Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books
(ARC received at ALA12)
There are some books that are objectively, almost undeniably very good. Ruta Sepetys' first novel, Between Shades of Grey was that kind of book. It was powerful and beautifully-written. But then there are other books that get away from the objective and on a personal level you just love them. For me, that's Sepetys' upcoming second novel, Out of the Easy. Set in 1950s New Orleans, this is a book that's more about a place, time, and atmosphere than it is around a historical event. Josie Moraine is a smart and good-natured girl stuck in a set of bad circumstances. Her mother's a prostitute who sees Josie as a burden (despite the fact that Josie hasn't actually lived with her mother since she was 11 and has instead kept her own apartment above the bookstore she works at); the owner of her bookstore is getting sicker and sicker; and Josie's chances of getting out of New Orleans and attending college are slim to say the least.

Josie herself is an awesome protagonist -- smart, sweet, down-on-her-luck, and entirely believable. Her story is helped by the cast of similarly lifelike characters around her, from the son of the bookstore owner to Willie, the madam who runs the brothel her mom works at. Despite the fact that Josie's ignored by her mother, she does have plenty of others who care about her -- it's just that her dreams and goals for her life don't quite match up with theirs.  Willie would be happy if Josie were her housemaid forever, but Josie longs to live in a place where everyone doesn't think of her as trash. I'm wary to give too much of what happens away so I won't get into the details of the plot, but I will say that this is one of the finest, most interesting historical novels I've read. While Josie's a great character and her journey is plenty interesting, the heft of this book's strength lies in its setting and atmosphere. The seedy of New Orleans is wonderfully realized here -- dusty, desperate, and incredibly well-written. Historical fiction is often difficult for me to really get into, but this one was just great; it hit all the right notes. Out of the Easy hits shelves February 13th, 2013.