Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery, AWESOME
Publication Date: February 12, 2013 (Philomel/Penguin – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: 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.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – an absolutely stunning YA historical fiction book that should definitely be an example for other YA historicals out there!
Review: Other YA historicals, take note. THIS is how you do a YA historical fiction novel that has no paranormal elements to it. My previous suggestion in this genre would be the Gemma Doyle trilogy from Libba Bray, but that has paranormal elements, and isn’t as contemporary-heavy as Sepetys’ work. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve been so sucked into such an awesome historical fiction book in awhile, YA or not. This is my first Sepetys book and mark my words, guys, it won’t be my last. “Out of the Easy” offers everything – a murder mystery, “tough stuff” issues, romance. This was definitely one of my most satisfying reads of 2013 so far, and so I definitely have to put “Out of the Easy” on the best of 2013 so far list for sure.
Say it with me now: Josie is a badass.
Sepetys has built an amazing protagonist in this book in the form of Josie, a spitfire of a girl who has big dreams, and not a whole lot of resources in order to fulfill them. That doesn’t stop her from trying – which is something I love in my heroines. Josie gets close to giving up, but hangs in there the whole time, even when things are collapsing around her. The semi sub-plot of the murder mystery interrupts those dreams, and may even stop them for good, and still, Josie stands her ground without putting her head to her forehead, begging for help from some handsome love interest. She’s intensely self-reliant, almost to the point of destroying other relationships around her. While there are some potential love interests in this book for Josie, including a proto-“bad boy” type, she doesn’t really let romance distract her from two of her goals: solving this murder, and getting the hell out of NOLA. Thus, I have to say – Josie herself is my favorite part of this book. She’s one of the realest characters I’ve ever read, regardless of the fact that this book takes place in 1950.
The worldbuilding in this book is pretty awesome, too. If you’ve been reading the blog or my other reviews, you know how I feel about contemporaries and worldbuilding: IE, they need it, regardless of time period if there’s no supernatural elements involved. Sepetys creates a very believable 1950’s Jim Crow South in New Orleans, and her sensory imagery and language is nothing short of spectacular. I also have to commend her on not entirely relying on tourist stereotypes of NOLA to build her world – while there are mentions of Mardi Gras and other events as well as the French Quarter, Sepetys really works to avoid leaning on those to prop up her world. While the French Quarter itself is the main setting of the book, we go to lesser known sections of it to see Josie’s world, and how she interacts with everyone within it. I could practically feel everything when it came to the sensory imagery and language, and that just made everything all the more intense and awesome. I can honestly say that everything really had that early ’50s feel to things and that just made me happy as a reader.
There’s also a very interesting idea that Cokie (Josie’s friend and driver for the whorehouse) introduces when talking to Josie about her wish to get out of NOLA and into a good school whilst grappling with trying to get away from the specter of her mother and her mother’s profession: the notion of being “soul broke” – something extremely profound that I feel still echoes and is very relevant in Western culture today. Here’s what Cokie says about the notion of being “soul broke”:
“Let me tell you something ’bout those 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. My friend Bix was poor. Lord, he had to blow that trumpet ten hours a day just to put a little taste in the pot. Died poor, too. You saw him, Jo, with that plate on his chest. But that man wasn’t soul broke.” (pg 83-84, 2013 ARC)
This is followed up by Josie’s realization that her mother, though not rich at all, is also soul broke. It’s a problem, and it still continues to be a problem in Western culture. The idea of having everything and still wanting more, not having something deep inside to be content with. This entire chapter was enough to make me put down the book for several hours if just to digest this notion of soul broke-ness that we still suffer from in America today. It’s enough of an impetus to help further create Josie’s personal character journey/development arc.
The rest of this book. technically, was more or less flawless, so I won’t go into them. However, I will give Sepetys a high-five for including an LGBT angle (and kind-of love triangle? It wasn’t really fully fleshed out, thankfully) to a time where Stonewall hadn’t even happened yet, and homosexuality was still considered a treatable illness. Very interesting, and it’s a very short reference late in the book. Still, I’m glad she included it, and it just made the book all the better, all the more diverse, and thus, all the more believable for that time period.
Final verdict? If you’re looking for a realistic yet dreamily done YA historical? This one is the book for you. Even if you’re not looking for a good YA historical, read it anyway. “Out of the Easy” drops from Philomel/Penguin February 12, 2013, so be sure to check it out then! It really is that good.