It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
I'm resurrecting my Past on Paper feature! Hurrah! And seeing as this book is set in 1950 then it will hopefully be the first of many more 20th century-set book reviews (the books are set in the 20th century, not the reviews, obvs).
I've been on a historical fiction binge at the moment which inevitably led me to this. Unlike pretty much everyone else in the universe, I've haven't read Ruta Sepetys debut, Between Shades of Gray so I was coming to this one without any preconceptions apart from perhaps the irresistable-sounding synopsis - I mean, hello? 'Mysterious death', New Orleans in 1950 - how could anyone NOT be excited by this?
I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint in the slightest. In fact, it might just be one of my favourite pieces of historical fiction, YA or otherwise. This is largely down to the expertly balanced combination of intriguing plot, brilliant protagonist and a coming of age tale that got right under my skin. This is a YA that isn't afraid of the seedier sides of life, with sex, power and frustration filtering through it's every paragraph.
There is an impressive array of complex supporting characters. Much like she has used this historical setting to bring an authentic background to the story, I feel like Sepetys has done the same with all the players in this tale - from Josie's various surrogate parent figures in the form of brothel madam Willie, driver Cokie and bookshop owner Charlie Marlowe, to the characters who drift in and out of the story in a way to create a richer picture. Without going into spoiler territory, the romance element feel almost like a bonus, not integral to the story, more like a happy side effect, and it was all the more refreshing because of this.
However the very best thing about Out of the Easy was Josie. The description 'bad ass book lover' may sound a bit cringey but it perfectly sums her up. More than aware of the cards her upbringing has dealt her, she remains focused and determined, using her experience of the slightly seedier side of the tracks to push her own agenda.
I'd just like to thank Ms Sepetys for writing a book that bought me out of my reviewing slump and given me a renewed appreciation for the intricacies and power of great historical fiction (and great mysteries).
(Thanks to my old local bookshop, I have a copy of the US edition, rather than the UK, hence the photo)