Sunday, 19 January 2014

review: Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys
Philomel Books, February 12 2013
young adult historical

Josie needs to get out of New Orleans. She can’t live the rest of her life cleaning the brothel at which her mother works while scraping together a living at a small bookstore. But a murder that implicates those closest around her sparks an investigation that keeps her tied to the French Quarter, and her dreams of East coast college grow more and more distant as her current world weaves its secrets around her.
The cover:

This book is impossible to represent in a cover and I’ve got to say that Penguin made a phenomenal attempt at it. Without resorting to some too-obscure, too-general image, Josie’s trapped sentiments are portrayed effectively, and the colour scheme is absolutely lovely. (Those rich greens!) Font choices are a bit ehhh, but overall an excellent effort.

The book:

Out of the Easy is unlike any book I’ve read in a long time… and I’m not even sure why. I think it’s probably the combination of the time setting, the intensely rich atmosphere and the protagonist, but I couldn’t pin it down to one thing. All I know for sure is that this book is worth reading, regardless of what you take out of it.

My dear friend Audrey said in her review that our main character Josie reminds her of Elliot North, from Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows The Stars, and I am in full agreement. Both characters are imminently capable, scarily relatable (considering one book is a historical and the other is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi Jane Austen retelling) and as a reader, one simply can’t help but feel for Josie. Her level-headed practicality is conveyed through a good balance of show-not-tell dialogue and less-is-more internal narration. Her weak moments make you want to hug her.

This novel is positively stuffed with secondary characters. While some are less-developed than they could be (Charlotte Lockwell comes to mind), adequate page time is given to major personages in Willie, Cokie (oh, Cokie and his puppy birthday presents, I can’t even) and even Josie’s mother; there’s a remarkable variety in the texture of these characters, and they are what drive the story when the plot gets slow. If you don't come out of this novel adoring every single lady who works at the brothel, then go back and read it again. (No, you don't have to. I don't like to order people around. But DORA. SWEETY. SADIE. <3)

Though I’d never call it slow, exactly; Josie has her hands in multiple pots at once, and watching her castle of dreams and lies escalate is just as captivating, if not more so, as finally resolving the murder. Which is a good thing; the murder investigation's resolution is quite open, and the focus on Josie means loose ends involving other characters are left waggling about. Anyway, just focus on the unmistakeable New Orleans atmosphere of this book that makes reading it truly something of a transporting experience. It’s said that setting can become another character in a novel, and in Out of the Easy it definitely does. From the lazy small-neighbourhood police to Willie’s business connections to the funeral at the end of the book to the cottage which serves to slow down the pace when necessary, this book is enveloped in the air of New Orleans’s French Quarter.

And Ruta Sepetys’s writing does not disappoint. The second last line… I love it so much. This is a different book, one I wish everyone would read. Not because they’d necessarily love it, but because everyone should read something truly unusual, and good, and recognize it, once in a while.

Ethnic balance: 2.5 out of 5. Historically accurate, considering the segregation.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5