Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres; I love it because I love learning about other time periods and I also love immersing myself in a really atmospheric setting. I think Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys will go on my list of all-time favorite historical fiction books. The book takes place in New Orleans in 1950 and its heroine is Josie Moraine, whose mother Louise is a prostitute at Willie Woodley’s brothel in the French Quarter. Josie and her mother Louise live above a bookstore run by a local author and Josie works as a housekeeper at the brothel and as a clerk at the bookstore. The book starts on New Years Eve; Josie graduated from high school the previous June and desperately wants to earn enough money to pay for a college education. She has basically raised herself; Louise is neglectful and only pays attention to Josie when she wants something from her. When Louise runs off to California with her criminal boyfriend Cincinnati Josie is relieved. Even though her mother is lacking Josie is surrounded by many caring, supportive people. She has basically been raised by Willie and Willie’s driver Cokie. She is also close to the bookstore’s owner, Charlie, and his son Patrick. Everyone has been telling Josie for years that she has what it takes to succeed in college and on New Year’s Eve two customers persuade her even more to follow her dreams. One is Charlotte, who is a student at Smith and tells Josie that she would be perfect for the campus. The other is a gentleman from Memphis, Tennessee who assumes that Josie is already in college; they have a great discussion about literature. After these two conversations Josie can picture herself at a New England university, taking challenging classes and going to cultural events, and surrounding herself with people with similar interests. The next morning, though, Josie plummets back down to the reality of her life in the Quarter. She finds out that the gentleman from Memphis died the night before and that her mother was with him. As Josie becomes embroiled in this mystery she begins to wonder whether she can ever get out of New Orleans.
This book is wonderful on so many levels. The New Orleans atmosphere is palpable; I felt like I was right there in the French Quarter with Josie. More importantly, though, the characters are wonderful. I loved Josie and her support system, including Jesse, the local “bad boy” who turns out to be so much more. In fact, many of the “upstanding citizens” in the novel turn out to be dishonorable and some of the so-called corrupt people are kind and honest. I love how Sepetys turns stereotypes on their heads. I enjoyed this book so much that after I finished I immediately went to YouTube to find an interview with the author. I’m including the one I found below; it was so fun and inspiring to hear about what led Sepetys to write this novel. It made the experience of this book even more special to me.