I’m a grown-up, solidly in middle-age, no longer a teenager. But I have to admit that some of my favorite books of all time (The Book Thief, The Giver, Between Shades of Gray, The Running Dream, The Fault in our Stars, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, etc) are those that have been categorized as “young adult” books. There has been an explosion of publishing in this area lately, and while there is plenty of garbage available, there are also many wonderful stories, deep and meaningful, suspenseful, romantic, funny. Whatever type of book you like to read, there are excellent young adult titles that you will love. Don’t let the young adult categorization fool you, all it means is that it is a book that is being marketed to teens, most often the protagonist in the story is a “young adult”, or someone between the ages of 14 and 21. It does NOT mean that the book is silly or juvenile or poorly written (although it could be – plenty of adult books are too!) or that it won’t appeal to an adult. Actually, today the majority of young adult titles are purchased by adults. So, all you other “grown-ups” out there – don’t be afraid to browse around in the young adult section of your local library or bookstore, you may be surprised at what great things you can find!
I had read Ruta Sepetys’s previous book, Between Shades of Gray (NO, not 50 Shades!), and absolutely loved it. It was a little odd how much I liked it. Historical fiction is not generally my favorite genre. It has to be really well written for me to become absorbed in another time. Her story of a Lithuanian family torn apart and sent to prison camps during World War II was gripping and heart-wrenching.
Out of the Easy was just as wonderful and engrossing. In the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, Josie is looking for a way to escape poverty, her prostitute mother, and a life full of filth and crime. Surrounded by a memorable cast of characters that support and hinder Josie along the way, she will have to struggle to make her way, especially when she is caught in the middle of an investigation into a suspicious death. Faced with a number of difficult situations and complex relationships, the decisions that Josie makes will ultimately determine her fate.
I really LOVED Josie, trying so hard to be different from her mother and trying to build a different kind of life for herself, so mature and self-sufficient, yet also a sad little girl who sometimes still longs for a father and a loving mother. There are moments of wry humor – “Patrick explained that your father is absent. What about your mother, dear?” Mother? Oh, she’s in a dusty motel in California right now, cooling herself with a cold Schlitz in her cleavage.” and moments of clarity of purpose – “I wasn’t certain of anything anymore, except that New Orleans was a faithless friend and I wanted to leave her.”
The supporting cast of characters, including prostitutes, gangsters, authors, booksellers, and “uptown” folk keep the story moving swiftly, adding heart, humor, and horror. Among my favorites are Willie, the tough-as-nails madam who loves Josie more than her own mother does, and Cokie, the mulatto driver for Willie’s “establishment”. Cokie sees the world as it truly is, but remains hopeful and positive, providing true friendship and support to Josie, encouraging her to move on in her life – “Sometimes we set off down a road thinkin’ we’re goin’ one place and we end up another. But that’s okay. The important thing is to start.” Cokie and Willie, along with several other key characters, provide Josie with a family of sorts, the kind that is made instead of born, and which turns out to be truer anyway.
Title: Out of the Easy
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Publication: Philomel, February 2013