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Book Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (5/5)

19 Mar

This book was wonderful. It took me on an adventure to somewhere I’d never dreamed of and I loved every second of it. I was rooting for Jo the whole time and I loved all the side characters in her story that were along for the ride. I initially gave this a 4/5 rating but when I started writing this review, I couldn’t think of a single thing I disliked about it. So get ready for some high praise.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

I wasn’t fully prepared for the well-orchestrated adventure I was going to be on when I started this book. I wish I’d read it closer to my trip to New Orleans, but that’s two years behind me now. When I think of the 1950s, I’m too often overwhelmed with images of poodle skirts and flashy cars (thank you Grease) but this was a very different picture. Jesse was a bit of the greaser, but the New Orleans setting took over the story and dominated the pages. Jo was a good choice of narrator to see the underbelly of the city while staying above the really terrible parts, but the city itself overpowered her and is the most memorable thing in this book.

While I’d like to believe there’s no one as terrible as Louise, sweet as Jesse, or pitiable as Charlie, I know that’s not true and all of these characters were wonderfully crafted. I developed feelings for all of them and cared deeply about their outcomes. Even the unlikable characters were believable and I could understand their motivations. I think characterization, plot, and setting all tied together wonderfully in this book.

Patrick was my favorite character. Until his big secret is revealed (no spoilers!) I was pulling for him and Jo to be together. I thought he was really sweet and loved how he looked out for his father. I liked how he was responsible for his business and his father and that he asked for help when he needed it. And I adored how much he cared about Jo.

I wanted to get out of my hometown when I was Jo’s age. Not for the same reasons, but I wanted to go somewhere and start over. I’d been in the same school since I was in Kindergarten and I wanted to go to college with people I didn’t know and start fresh. I related to her desire to get out but her reluctance to leave the people she loved behind. It was liberating, yet lonely, to leave home and I think Jo senses the same thing coming her way.

Ruta Sepetys
Image via the Between Shades of Gray website

The setting was just so good that I’m going to talk about it again. I was in New Orleans for a conference two years ago and was able to spend some time alone walking around the French Quarter. It still has the vibe that Sepetys describes. I can only imagine it 60 years ago with fewer tourists and different laws. It took me back to wandering around in the heat of summer looking at bookshops and I loved it.

Spoilers here so skip down to avoid them! The only part of the book I disliked was Willie’s death. It seemed to come too fast. I think it was built to very subtly, but it was too subtle. If Willie was ill, it should have been more obvious. It seemed too convenient and wrapped up the plot too quickly. I guess I didn’t buy it being grown into the plot.

The audiobook I listened to was read by Lauren Fortgang. She did an amazing job with this book. The characters’ accents seemed to jive with where they were from and her intonations for the different genders, ages, and lifestyles was perfect. I actually searched for other titles read by Fortgang and I’m thinking of listening to them just to enjoy her again.

Jo didn’t have a traditional family. The one blood relative she did have didn’t support her in any way and hurt her at every opportunity to further her own agenda. Willie was more like a mother, Cokie and Charlie fathers, and Patrick a brother. These people took care of each other. They were a community of people who looked out for one another and I loved that. I think it’s something we’re missing today in a lot of the country and I’d love to see this kind of community come back.

Writer’s Takeaway: I’m going to talk about the setting again. It’s very obvious that Sepetys did a lot of research into New Orleans in the 1950s. As a historical fiction writer, I know that can be hard and I think she’s done an amazing job. She brought it to life and the city was almost a character that could help or hurt a person and I think that’s amazing.

This book blew me away. Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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