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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Let's get these book reviews started with a YA novel!

Book Type: YA lit, mid-century New Orleans

Cover Art: "Gilded cage," "Help me, I'm trapped!"

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Let's see... Jesse, Cokie/Willie, Josie's mother (Louise)

Stereotype Alert: Sleazy McSleazebags who frequent brothels, hooker with a heart of gold,  YA lit love triangle

What's the Story?: Smart teen has a prostitute for a mother and has to work like a dog to make a life for herself outside of the world's oldest profession.  Also, murder! Theft! Violent mobsters!

X-Factor: Bookshop filled with great dusty books!

Cover Art: A great, big, huge missed opportunity!  "Girl trapped in a cage" is a very tired trope. Yes, Josie needs to grow some wings and get the hell outta New Orleans, but this is still a lame cover.  The stark cover for Sepetys' first book Between Shades of Gray is a masterpiece compared to this.  Booooring.  As a teen, there is no way I would have read this book based on cover alone. 

Character Score: Above average.  Worthy of a 6 out of 10 Micawbers in my book.  Yes, you can't help but cheer for Josie.  She is smart, scrappy and you just want her to get as far away from her horrible mother as possible (and become a college girl!).  I couldn't help but love sweet old Cokie.  I even found myself slowly falling in love with the slightly stereotypical brothel madam; the hard as nails, grizzled Willie.  I hated Josie's mother.  Obvi.  Won't waste any more time talking about her.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Alrighty.  Um, what teen girl wouldn't want to have sex with dark, handsome Jesse? Seriously.  I realize that Patrick is also a love interest, but come on.  You'll know what I mean when you read it.  He's a bit too whiny for me.  I want to marry sweet old Cokie and make him realize that there is a perfect lady out there for him but I also think that perhaps tough old Willie could have used a bit of lovin' (and not the kind you pay for).  And again, no contest, murder that bitch Louise (if crazy mobster Cincinnati hasn't done so already). 

Stereotype Alert: There is a bit of the typical stuff you'd expect when there's a book about whores. It gets close to "hooker with a heart of gold" territory. And there are several lecherous johns who just need to keep it in their pants already.  Also, there is a dreaded YA lit love triangle.  Why does every teen book that involves some sort of romance have to have more than one love interest?  It gets annoying.  Luckily, this one isn't as annoying as most.

What's the Story?: Josie has always had to fend for herself.  With an unscrupulous prostitute for a mother, Josie Moraine learns at a young age that her smarts and hard work are the only tools to keep her from total destruction in the seedy underbelly of the French Quarter in 1950s New Orleans.  All her life, Josie has begun and ended  her days the same way: wake early and clean the "house" (ahem, brothel) owned by Willie Woodley, New Orleans' most powerful madam, then go to Marlowe's Bookshop where she works until closing and then sleeps in a tiny upstairs office where she's lived since she was 11.  All this plus a mother who is a hot mess and is constantly stealing from her daughter and Josie somehow manages to graduate from high school early.  Though Josie dreams of college, she knows she'll never have enough money for tuition let alone enough to finally leave New Orleans and her mother's poisonous wrath. 

On New Years Eve while working in the bookshop with her BFF Patrick, a very nice-looking, rich tourist from Tennessee comes in to buy a few books.  Josie can't explain it, but she is drawn to this mysterious man and begins to daydream about him being her biological father- a man she has never met.  After the holiday, Josie finds out that the man (who was very fit and healthy) mysteriously keeled over at a restaurant during drinks.  Josie files the information away and goes over to Willie's to clean up the post-New Years celebration (eew).  A few days later, Josie meets a cool new friend named Charlotte who is visiting her aunt and uncle for the holidays and Josie finds out that she attends a wonderful east-coast college named Smith.  Charlotte encourages Josie to apply to the school and even invites Josie and Patrick to a party being held by her snobby relatives.  It is at this party that Josie gets a sour taste of the upper class and we meet Sleazy McSleazebag Mr. Lockwell  who is Charlotte's well-to-do-uncle who has a bit of a soft spot for whorehouses.  When Josie then finds out that Mr. Lockwell is a frequent visitor of Evangeline, the mean-spirited kleptomaniac hooker who lives at Willie's, she figures she may be able to blackmail a reference out of Lockwell  thus ensuring a way out of New Orleans and into the ivy covered walls of Smith. 

Meanwhile, the cops have come calling, wanting to know what Josie knows about the murder of the rich man from Tennessee.  All she knows is that he wrote her a check at the bookstore and that he bought Dickens and Keats.  She starts to get suspicious, however, when she finds a personal object belonging to the man hidden away in a sock in her mother's bedroom.  While Josie keeps these things a secret, this is not Willie's first trip to the rodeo and she tells Josie (a bit late) to stay away from the cops.  Soon, the authorities come calling for Josie's mother, Louise, who has disappeared yet again with Josie's money and the love of her life, the abusive gangster known as Cincinnati.  While Louise is out of town, Josie is stuck with her mother's steep mob debt as her next of kin.  Sleazy McSleazebag offers Josie a ton of dollaz to sleep with him in order to pay the debt.  To top it all off, cops are still sniffing around and Willie is freaked out that Cincinnati is going to come and murder Josie.  So Josie is shipped out to Willie's cottage in the country to ride out the storm. 

X-Factor: Marlowe's Bookshop is pretty sweet.  I had horribly romantic dreams of working in a place like it when I was in High School.  Now I work in a library which is about as close as it gets to a comfy bookstore :)

Will Josie get into college?  Will she ever leave New Orleans?  Will her horrible mother get her comeuppance?  What really happened to that guy from Tennessee?  Did she actually stoop to her mother's level and have sex with a guy for money? 

I have to say that I preferred Sepetys' first book, Between Shades of Gray (not to be at all confused with Fifty Shades of Grey, dear god!), but I did enjoy it.  I was a bit in awe of the idea of women being prostitutes for a living as a kid so this was an interesting read in that sense. 



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