Thursday, February 14, 2013

Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys: Smith girls aren't easy...even in the Big Easy

Out of the Easy
Ruta Sepetys
New York: Philomel Books, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-399-25692-9
ARC provided by NetGally

The world is not kind when you are the daughter of a prostitute.  It is 1950, and Josie Morraine is about to turn eighteen.  Working in both a bookstore and as a maid in the brothel that employs her mother, Josie has lived alone and supported herself since she was 12. She is eager to escape her mother’s shadow and the steamy underbelly of New Orleans to start a better life for herself.  Though Josie’s defacto guardian, the infamous, fierce madam Willie Wooley, has provided her both with employment and protection in the rough French Quarter, she doesn’t agree with Josie’s dream of leaving New Orleans for an elite New England college education.  When a wealthy, kind businessman suspiciously dies the same day he has visited bookstore, Josie can’t help but pay attention as it becomes more and more evident that her mother’s gangster boyfriend may be involved, and that Josie and her friends may be in danger as a consequence.  Caught between doing the easy thing, the right thing, and following her dreams and heart, escaping her past is not going to be easy for Josie.  This well written, coming of age story is best for older teens and adults due to mature themes, and is a strong recommendation for both public and school libraries, as well as summer reading lists.  

With an opener like “My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind.”  I think we can safely start placing bets on both how soon after publication this will be banned, how many times it will be banned, etc.  But I hope there are librarians brave enough out there to put this whore book on their library shelves - it is well worth the headache of dealing with the pearl clutchers who won’t make it past page one.  Out of the Easy is well crafted, with solid, engaging writing, and a really sympathetic, admirable protagonist.  Josie has it tough, and we sympathize with her, but Sepetys is deft in making sure we never feel pity for her; she has a hard life, but she’s working harder, holding her head high, and trying to stay respectable to change it.  

Josie has created a rich chosen family for herself. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with Patrick.  (Spoiler alert:) Though Josie is certainly not naive after working for years to clean up in the mornings at a brothel (a. gross, and b. por ejemplo, she doesn’t bat an eyelash when she finds one of the prostitutes napping with an ice pack on her ladybits), she’s naive about a lot of life, and doesn’t quite understand the whole being gay insinuation, pretty much until its beating her over her head.  I really kind of loved that angle; it’s such a human quality to know so much, and yet so little!  (Spoiler over!)  The other characters, though occasionally of a type (cruel gangster, loving chauffer, sweet-natured cook, slimey business man, prostitute with a heart of gold, progressive Smith girl from a good family), are all well crafted - and who wouldn’t have a crush on tight-jean, leather jacket, motorcycle mechanic with a heart of gold, Jesse?  Whatababe.  It is also a testament to Sepetys’ writing that she has written a book about a lot of prostitutes, usually easy fodder for ridicule or criticism.  Though the reader understands the societal prejudices, Sepetys’s writing never creates a feeling of disgust, pity or stigmatizes them, except perhaps in the case of the truly lost woman, Josie’s monstrous mother.  In short - it’s a pretty solid, enjoyable read with an aura of suspense that makes it hard to put down!  

PS. It took me until approximately today (I've had had this one for a month and a half or so) that there is not a bird, but a girl behind the birdcage on the cover. Self-low-five!

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