I fell in love with Ruta Sepetys’ writing when I read her debut novel Between Shades of Gray, a story about a Lithuanian girl’s experience in a Russian gulag. Between Shades of Gray was an emotionally compelling novel with vibrant characters and a setting that you won’t soon forget. Ruta Sepetys’ second novel, Out of the Easy, is just as good, with characters just as vibrant and another unforgettable setting.
Out of the Easy takes place in New Orleans in 1950. Josie is the daughter of a prostitute, and that’s all people see when they look at her. But she is so much more than her mother’s legacy. Josie is smart, resourceful, and hardworking. She has bigger dreams than following her mother’s profession or working in a city that only thinks of her as a prostitute’s daughter. Josie dreams of getting out of New Orleans and attending an elite East Coast school like Smith. But for a girl of Josie’s circumstances, Smith is a pipe dream.
But Josie refuses to give up. She’s a heroine every reader can love and respect. She works two jobs, has loyal friends and an upstanding character, despite her scandalous childhood and her mother. She is smart, caring, and tough, and you can’t help but root for her.
Out of the Easy is full of great characters like Josie, characters that are vibrant whether they are good or bad. Characters like Cokie, an old cab driver, and Patrick, who owns the bookstore where Josie works, are steady and loyal friends to Josie. Jesse, a handsome mechanic with a past like Josie’s, is a good friend who hopes to be more, and Willie Woodley is the savvy businesswoman who looks after Josie when she needs it most. But even the characters who are not so savory add dimension to the story, including Josie’s good for nothing mother and her friend’s uncle who shows more interest in Josie than he should.
All these characters weave together as Josie finds herself entangled in a murder mystery surrounding a man who came into the bookshop one day. Josie tries to navigate life in New Orleans’ French quarter while planning for her future—and a way out of New Orleans—and trying to figure out the truth behind this murder. As the reader, you fight Josie’s battles, hope her hopes, suffer her losses, and finally rejoice at her success. Out of the Easy is not a fairytale. It isn’t a Cinderella story, but it is a tale of how one girl’s hard work and faithful friends can get her closer to her dreams.
Just like Between Shades of Gray, Out of the Easy is a memorable story with fantastic characters and an engaging story. As much as I enjoyed Ruta Sepetys’ first novel, I loved this one even more. All of the characters—both good and bad and morally ambiguous—were fantastic, and the story complemented the setting very well. It is definitely a book I would recommend for everyone, no matter what kind of genre you like. Out of the Easy is a well written story that I could read over and over again. Just writing this review makes me want to go reread the book. Maybe that’s just what I’ll do, so if you’ll excuse me…