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Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Published February 12, 2013.

Josie knows that she wants to leave New Orleans behind.  She wants to leave her mother, a prostitute who works in a brothel.  Josie wants to leave behind her job of cleaning the rooms of the brothel.  But it’s not so easy to leave The Big Easy, especially when a wealthy man just turned up dead soon after meeting Josie in the bookstore she works in.  Josie is also caught up in lying about the mental condition of the bookstore’s owner so that he won’t be committed.  And there may just be romance flying with not one handsome young man but two.  Yet Josie has one specific dream and that is getting into Smith College.  The question is just how many people she may have to step on to get there and how she will have to compromise herself.  This vivid portrayal of a 1950s New Orleans takes us into the seedy world beneath the shiny beads and lovely architecture.

The setting of this novel is such an integral part of the story that it simply would not have worked anywhere else in the world.  Beautifully captured, readers get to really see the time period reflected as well as the city herself.  Add to that the wonderfully charged atmosphere of the story and you get a book that is impossible not to fall for, just like New Orleans.

Sepetys has created a complex heroine in this novel.  Josie is both ashamed of her background and yet defensive and proud about it as well.  As she gets deeper and deeper into the secrets and troubles of the storyline, her character is tested and Josie does not always react the way one might expect a heroine to.  Instead she is genuine, making wrong choices, correcting and then making others.  Often there is no right answer, just not the worst one. 

Well-written and compelling, this glimpse of New Orleans features a striking heroine and a tumultuous storyline.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from Philomel.