Confession Number 513: I was absolutely certain I would not like Out of the Easy as much as Between Shades of Gray. I read Between... a few months ago and loved it, with its gorgeous writing and important message presented so artfully through Ruta Sepetys's imagination. Even though a couple of friends assured me that they loved this one even more, I just doubted it would turn out that way for me.
So...I love Out of the Easy even more than Between Shades of Gray. Which is not to take anything away from Between..., but Out of the Easy wormed its way into my consciousness and soul and I know I will never let go of these characters.
With that confession, I'll tell you what makes this book so outstanding. First and foremost is the main character, Josie Mortain, living in New Orleans in 1950. Josie's mother is a prostitute in a local brothel, and it's very obvious that 1) this woman should never have had a child, and 2) Josie has had an unusual upbringing. While Josie's mother is after anyone who will show affection or money, Josie cleans for the brothel's madam, Willie, who obviously cares for Josie in her own, gruff way. Hiding out in a local bookstore as a child, she eventually is given a room there by Charlie, the bookstore owner, and she begins to work for him as the years progress. The story picks up with Josie being eighteen, unsure of her feelings for the bookstore owner's son, Patrick, and longing for any sort of indication that she is meant for anything more than what her life now offers. When she meets a young woman who attends Smith College, Josie allows that to become her dream, but there's also a murder in town that somehow weaves itself around her life.
There's so much more to this story and I want to touch on it all, but it's just not possible. Josie's story is touching and real, hopeful and devastating, menial and ethereal, all at the same time. But it's not just Josie, it's her "family": it's Charlie, Patrick, Willie, Cokie, and the girls who work for Willie, all of whom have strong voices and personalities that shape Josie's world. The murder mystery opens up so much of Josie's personal hopes and dreams, but it also obviously is worrisome with its insinuations and unsavory characters. I so wanted Josie to succeed; I so wanted her life, and the lives of those close to her, to become more. I found myself unable to go to sleep last night as I lay awake wondering how Josie's story could resolve itself without her getting hurt. She's gotten attached to my soul, darn it.
Sepetys has a gift for drawing the reader in and revealing bits of the story in such a tantalizing way that, as a reader, you keep thinking, "Okay, just one more chapter" until you realize it's an hour past your bedtime and you still aren't ready to let go. The beauty of this novel (and it is beautiful, even with a brothel and a murder), is that the people are real and alive and tangible. Even the ones you hate are so well-developed that you can picture them intimately as they move through the story; heck, even the city thrives as a character contributing to Josie's shattered dreams and hopeful aspirations. It's not an easy story to read, and it sure won't be an easy one to let go.