In Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys had me at hello. It begins:
My mother's a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She's actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.
Seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine doesn't want to follow in her mother's footsteps. She's known that for years, and even though she still works at the same brothel as her mother—cleaning rooms, mind you—and even though she's on good terms with Willie Woodley, the woman who owns it, she's independent enough that she's kept her own apartment since she was eleven years old.
She works part-time at the bookstore below it, and she dreams of going to college. But when Josie dreams, she dreams big: she wants out of New Orleans, to start over somewhere up North, somewhere where she can reinvent herself—where no one knows who she is or what her mother does.
LOVE: THE DIALOGUE. Out of the Easy is set in 1950, and Sepetys' characters sling slang without sounding phony or overblown, and the dialogue zings back-and-forth like in an old movie. The characters speak in distinctive voices, and unlike in Strands of Bronze and Gold, those differences in vocabulary, rhythm, and diction are affected by economic class, vocation, and education, rather than being purely dictated by the color of one's skin.
LOVE: JOSIE. Her narration has a touch of the noir hero: deadpan, world-weary, and with an understanding of ironic humor. Unlike a noir hero, though, she is open about being emotionally affected by... things that are emotionally affecting. She's smart, she's canny, and rather than blushing and wanting to melt into the ground in embarrassing situations, she treats them as opportunities—I cheered out loud when she turned one around by becoming an impromptu blackmailer, and I swooned during another when she threw herself into a cute boy's lap to save herself (and him, to a degree) from some catty mean girls.
LOVE: HER MOTHER. Well, no, actually, I loathed her mother. But I loved that she wasn't the Pretty-Woman-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, I loved that she wasn't secretly sympathetic, or selfless or particularly smart. She was completely self-absorbed, and while her behavior makes her come off as rotten and somewhat stupid, it's important to remember who's telling the story: Josie isn't exactly an objective party. The other women who work for Willie are a mixed bag of funny/serious/witty/quiet/ruthless/rude/mothering/mean/sensitive and everything in between, and it's easy to imagine that if another person had told the story, Louise would have come off as more human. Maybe. Then again, SOME PEOPLE ARE JUST TERRIBLE.
LOVE: THE BOOKS. Josie works in a bookstore, and she and her best friend Patrick have an ongoing game where they predict what sort of book customers will want. There are references to Dickens and Keats, Capote and even L'Engle. And, tangentially, Poe: Josie ends up with a dead man's watch—THAT'S RIGHT, ON TOP OF EVERYTHING ELSE, SHE INVESTIGATES A MURDER—under her floorboards, and she swears she can hear it ticking, ticking, ticking. Which, of course, evokes The Tell-Tale Heart.
LOVE: EVERYTHING ELSE. Sepetys is true to the era and her characters in how Patrick's story plays out; the romance is sweet and heartfelt; the details about 1950s life and culture work themselves in fluidly; Josie wants what she wants so badly that I was never quite sure about how far she'd go to get it; and while the ending certainly has some fairy-tale elements, there's enough bitter in the sweet to keep cynics (like me) from getting all up on their high horses.
Oh, I loved this book. As it's got the same combination of fantastically-rendered historical atmosphere—the dialogue is TO DIE FOR—and mystery elements, I highly, HIGHLY recommend it to fans of Judy Blundell's What I Saw and How I Lied.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.