Sepetys, Ruta. Out of the Easy. Philomel, 2013.
Josie Moraine, the seventeen-year-old daughter of a prostitute, lives in Charlie Marlowe’s bookstore, where she also works, in the New Orleans French Quarter. Josie’s mother, Louise, has never been a maternal figure, instead preferring the company of men to that of her daughter. Josie has had to grow up fast; she learned to make martinis when she was seven years old. By age eleven, she had found a home at the bookstore, while her mother lived at Willie Woodley’s New Orleans brothel and kept company with Cincinnati, a known associate of Carlos Marcello, the godfather of the New Orleans mafia.
Josie longs to leave New Orleans and her past life behind. When she and Patrick, Charlie’s son, meet Charlotte Gates, Josie sees her chance to get out of New Orleans. She applies to Smith College in Northampton, MA, where Charlotte is a student. Unfortunately, getting out of New Orleans is not easy. It seems that at every turn, Josie’s mother is there trying to pull Josie down to her level. Cincinnati is always nipping at Josie’s heels, and people assume she will turn out just like her mother.
Thank goodness Josie has friends that take an interest in her and care about her. From Cokie, the cab driver, to Willie, the brothel madam, to the prostitutes that work for Willie, and Jesse, the flower salesman---they all want protect her and help her to succeed in life.
When a murder happens to a visitor in the French Quarter, Josie feels that it is not a heart attack, like the coroner has ruled. She tries to hide evidence while she figures out the mystery but becomes a victim, herself. Now that her admittance to Smith and her tuition is in jeopardy, how will she ever find a way to leave New Orleans?
This historical fiction novel was just delightful! The story is built around the book’s characters and the culture of New Orleans. I loved the way that the French Quarter life and its historical figures were woven into the plot. Ruta Septetys has a real gift with her ability to paint vivid pictures with descriptive words. What a great idea it is to have a bookstore as a main setting and safe haven in this story!
Dora, Evangeline, and Sweety—Willie’s “girls” are strong female characters, despite the fact that they are “working girls”. In fact, all the female characters in the book are strong, with the exception of Louise, Josie’s mother. Who in the world would even think of naming her daughter for a madam, even if she is the “classiest madam in Storyville”? Josie calls Willie her “wicked stepmother with a heart of gold”, and she truly is much more of a mother figure to Josie than Louise ever has been.
Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction or loves a good mystery will enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it to high school and public libraries.