Sunday, January 5, 2014

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys is another LibraryThing Early Reviewer book that I'm belatedly reviewing.

Josie Moraine is sharp, independent, and well-read. She's also the daughter of a French Quarter prostitute, and she feels that, as long as she lives in New Orleans, that's all that people will see. Josie's fondest wish is to go to college, preferably somewhere far away from the Big Easy, but it's not so easy to leave. Josie is saving every penny she can while working two jobs, but it will take years to earn enough to pay tuition to Smith, her dream school. And she can't ask her mother for help, considering that her mother is more likely to steal Josie's savings than to chip in money for college. Josie doesn't know who her father was, but she likes to imagine that he was someone good and kind, someone like Forrest Hearne, a gentleman from out of state who stops by the bookstore on New Years Eve, 1949, and speaks kindly to Josie about Dickens and Keats. Even in a brief exchange, Hearne makes Josie feel interesting, as if he sees her as someone with potential. But a few hours later, Hearne is dead -- and the next morning, while cleaning the brothel where her mother works, Josie discovers Forrest Hearne's watch under her mother's bed. Josie finds herself caught up in the murder investigation, first through her own curiosity, and later through her mother's involvement. She's also caught up in the drama of applying to Smith, fighting for a space among a crowd of applicants with more extracurricular activities and better references. To top it off, she's caught between two potential suitors, one who holds the comfort of long friendship, while the other is exciting and charming. Will she choose the former, the latter, or neither? After all, what she wants most isn't a man, but a ticket out of the Easy.

This is one of those books I can't believe I waited this long to read. The characters are layered and complex, and Josie is likeable, but also believable -- sharp, salty, and strong. She's the sort of character that you root for, but she's also a little unpredictable, so you never quite know how the story will turn out. The secondary characters are likewise well-written. I wanted a bit more from the mystery aspect of the plot, and the New Orleans atmosphere was a little diluted, but those are small criticisms when stacked against all of the goodness of the characters and writing. I definitely recommend this one.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher, via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.)

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