My mother’s a prostitute.
Ruta Sepetys’ debut was one of the more harrowing reads in my time as a blogger. Between Shades of Gray opened my eyes to a period of history that I was blind to and so when I found Sepetys’ second novel, I knew I had to read it!
As the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie Moranie’s life has been far from conventional! Despite managing to create some small semblance of a normal life living in Willie Woodley’s Big Easy, Josie wants more than cleaning floors and selling books. Her sights are firmly set on obtaining an elite college education and she has been squirrelling her money away to pay for it. But when a kindly stranger suddenly is found dead, Josie’s world is no longer focussed on her schoolbooks as she enters into the seedier shadows of New Orleans to discover the truth she desperately seeks.
Sepetys captures the uncertainty and gritty atmosphere of 1950s New Orleans pitch perfectly in Out of the Easy. It is a colourful, dangerous and culturally diverse place where all sorts of people live and pass through. The smells, sounds and attitude are all subtly woven into the narrative and it is Sepetys’ strong sense of place that creates this believable historical novel that an audience can easily step into. New Orleans is definitely a living breathing character within the pages of Out of the Easy and Sepetys is quick to use it to reflect the community spirit and darker side of life that is experienced by Josie throughout the story.
Due to the richness of the setting, it’s hardly surprising that there are a multitude of interesting characters to explore and meet within Out of the Easy. Each character has a different motive and rasion d’etre, which makes for some great pieces of dialogue! There is no question that this is a story that is about and led by its characters, with even the smallest walk-on parts given the airtime to enrich the story without compromising the flow of action.
Josie is a great narrator and observer of events but, as a character, can sometimes be overshadowed by the more multi-dimensional people that inhabit Sepetys’ New Orleans. The madam Willie, who takes on a maternal yet distanced role, is someone whose past I would love to have seen more of and the internal struggle of bookshop owner Patrick was subtly played but deeply intriguing.
For me, the murder mystery took a significant back burner in place of the people, though this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book. It seemed like a narrative trope to get Josie where she needed to be by the end rather than a significant narrative twist but the journey was enjoyable nonetheless as Sepetys is a wizard with setting and characterisation. Out of the Easy is a very different beast to her debut so to expect a second Between Shades of Gray would be unfair and would do this second novel a disservice. Sepetys continues to be an author to watch, if not for her excellent writing then to see where she’ll whisk her audience away to next!