Out of the Easy is one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve ever read. Ruta Sepetys has a genuine gift with words, the kind of talent that can’t be forced. I actually have a lot of trepidation about reviewing this one because it’s such a gem, I don’t know if I can do it justice, and it’s been about two years since I’ve read it.
But I will say the following:
1) Despite being a murder mystery, this book is character-driven rather than plot-driven. The characters are strong, complex, and different from one another, and they all feel so real. Josie, the main character, has imperfect, complicated relationships with each of them, but that makes those relationships all the more realistic and poignant. My favourite relationships are between Josie and her best friend Patrick (the feels! my heart!), and between Josie and the women who work at the brothel where she was raised — especially between Josie and Willie, the Madam, who is more of a mother to Josie than Josie’s own mother.
2) The historical setting is unique — 1950s New Orleans comes out in a negative, gritty light. At first, I really wanted the spirit of the New Orleans I’ve visited to bleed through the pages — the color, the jazz, the exuberance, the harmonious melding of cultures. Instead I got the dark reality of racism, classism, and misogyny — everyone just trying to get by as best they could, not being rich white men and all. I really appreciated this.
3) It’s easy to relate to Josie’s ambition and discontent. Everyone expects her to end up in the brothel because she was raised there, but she knows that she wants to go away to school and that she has the brains for it. Some reviewers were concerned that Josie’s aversion to the brothel somehow shames sex workers, but I don’t agree with this. Josie never expressed any disdain for the girls who worked at the brothel, and almost everyone dreams of getting away from the setting they grew up in at some point. Plus, there are some instances of sexual assault directed at Josie, so she would understandably be uncomfortable with sex work. (Note: I’m not saying that anyone who has ever been sexually abused is averse to sex or to sex work. I’m just saying it would be understandable if they were).
The novel has a lot of sad, that’s-just-life moments, but it also has some really hopeful ones. Overall, it’s a soul-food kind of read.