Out of the Easy (2013) by Ruta Sepetys was chosen as our next book for my book club. I'd never heard anything about it, but the many positive reviews were promising. Out of the Easy is a young-adult, coming-of-age story of Josie Moraine, a 17-year-old girl living in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1950's.
Josie is smart and good-hearted. She has dreams of getting out of New Orleans, but she has a lot of obstacles. Josie lives by herself, above a bookstore, where she has been living and working since she was a little girl. Her mother is a prostitute at a local brothel. The brothel's Madame, a strong, opinionated, and powerful woman named Willie has taken Josie under her wing. Josie makes extra money by cleaning the brothel and Willie keeps an eye on Josie. This is useful because Josie's mother is pushing hard for the Worst Mother in the World Award.
Josie is focused on making enough money so that she can get out of New Orleans and go to school. Her life gets upended, however, when a handsome, rich man shows up at the bookstore. Josie would like to believe that he could be her father, but he dies that night under suspicious circumstances. Josie wants to know what happened to him and finds herself caught up in a number of lies. She is scared of the police, scared that her mother might be implicated, and unwittingly drawn into danger and deceit before the book is over. Complicating her life is the sexy guy, Jesse Thierry, who hangs around her neighborhood as well as Patrick Marlowe, the son of the man who owns the bookstore--because what would a young-adult novel be without a little love triangle?
I'm afraid that I didn't love this book. It's very possible that teenagers might find it more relatable, but I found it a little boring. One of the main problems I had was that I couldn't quite figure out what the book was trying to do. At first I thought Josie would discover who her father was, then I thought it was a murder mystery, but it wasn't either of those things. In addition, Josie could be a pretty irritating character. I couldn't understand why she would try to lie to Willie. Her problems would not be so insurmountable if she just trusted the one woman who had never let her down. I'm all for characters making bad decisions, but I need to believe in why they're doing it, and I don't think the characters were developed enough for this.
Not only was I unsatisfied in Josie's decision making, but I was disappointed by the characters of Willie and Cokie (Cokie is a Black man, hired by Willie, and he often helps out Josie as a fairy god mother would: providing transportation, money, and advice whenever needed). These two characters felt more like caricatures than any of the others, and it took me out of the story.
This was a pretty quick read that had some interesting parts, but I just couldn't get into it.