Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: ✮✮✮✮ +½
“Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin’ we’re goin’ one place and we end up another. But that’s okay. The important thing is to start.”
I have mentioned more than once that historical fiction is not my favorite cup of tea – but when I spotted Out of the Easy, something pulled me to it, made me pick it up and take it home.
Turns out, my intuition was right. Out of the Easy is a fantastic book, driven by strong characterization and just the right amount of suspense. It’s not a murder mystery, like I thought. It’s the story of one girl’s desperate desire to get out of New Orleans, a city where she has been judged and ridiculed because of her mother’s occupation. The city, in turn, tries its absolute hardest to drag her back in.
Josie’s mother is a prostitute, but that is not why she is a bad mother. The other women in the brother appeal to that, with characters like Sweety and Dora that are kind-hearted, strong, and independent. Even though they don’t enjoy their profession, they still play the hand they are dealt in order to survive. Josie’s mother, on the other hand, is self-absorbed and childish.
“I am not too old,” she said through her teeth. “You’re just jealous, and you know it. You’re lucky I didn’t throw you in a trash barrel, you little ingrate. I sacrificed everything for you, so don’t tell me what I am.”
I took a breath and tried to speak quietly. “You don’t mean that, Mother. Stop it. You’re making a scene.” I tried to pull my arm from her grasp. “And you’re hurting me.”
“I’m hurting you? Oh, that’s ripe. You ruined my body and tied me down during the best years of my life. I could have been famous. And you say I’m hurting you?”
It’s understandable why Josie wants to get far, far away from her, the city, the brothel, everything. Not only does she have her mother, who is dating a man from the mob, but she’s constantly being compared to her. Furthermore, men ask if she has started at the brothel, and one has the audacity to ask to be her “first”. She’s being crushed under her mother’s shadow, and she wants to go to a place where no one knows where she came from.
Even though she’s constantly being dragged down, Josie is lovable because, flawed as she is, she doesn’t give up. She has a fire inside of her.
Cincinnati spun around toward me. “All right,” he said, casually raising his hands. “Let’s not get crazy, Josie.”
“Crazy Josie—I kinda like the way that sounds.” I clutched my gun with both hands the way Willie had taught me. “Why don’t you get out of here before I do something crazy.”
This is not the twisted, plot-driven novel that I usually go for. It’s a much simpler book than that, yet it still holds deep meaning. This is a story about grief, loss, and despair – and also how, in spite of everything, life goes on.