Out of the Easy
Out of the Easy
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Ruta Sepetys
ISBN 9780399256929
Philomel/Penguin, 2013.
5 stars
Keywords: 1950 historical-fiction mysteries new-orleans out-easy ruta-sepetys social-issues

Out of the Easy
by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys's (Between Shades of Gray) second novel takes readers deep inside the underbelly of New Orleans on the eve of 1950.

"My mother's a prostitute," Jo Morraine's narrative begins. Willie Woodley is the madam who runs the establishment where Jo's mother goes to work. There's far more to Willie than first meets the eye. A savvy businesswoman who's tough on the outside but who sees Jo's potential, Willie becomes a vehicle for Sepetys to point out the limits set on women in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially in the South. As Jo watches Willie navigate the system--legal, financial and otherwise--she picks up some skills of her own.

A few other adults watch out for Jo, including a bestselling novelist with a bookstore, and Willie's kind-hearted driver, Cokie. They balance out a mother with no street smarts and no redeeming qualities. Jo's mother gets mixed up with the mob and draws Jo into it, just as the teen's life is looking up. As Cokie tells Jo, "Call this place 'The Big Easy' shoot, ain't nothin' easy about it." Sepetys slowly builds a mounting tension between the life Jo was born into, and a chance to create a better life for herself and leave her past behind.

This suspenseful novel, framed by a murder mystery, more fully explores the question of who Jo Morraine will become, and proves Sepetys's extraordinary versatility as a storyteller.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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