Ruta Sepetys may be best known for Between Shades of Grey (a story about art and refugees, not bondage and sex), but her more recent Out of the Easy is worth just as much attention.
Set in the year 1950, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, the story follows Josie, the teenaged daughter of a prostitute. More than anything, Josie wants to escape the life that she’s been dropped into; she dreams of finding her father, and maybe even going to Smith College in Massachusetts. The darling of the Quarter, everyone wants her to succeed–from the brothel madam and her driver to the mentally ill bookshop owner and his son who have adopted her as their own. But as Josie’s mother gets involved with the mob, Josie finds herself in a dangerous position.
Call me crazy, but I kind of got a Great Gatsby meets Downton Abbey vibe off of this book. Now, now, hear me out. Josie’s “green light on the water” takes shape in her desire for a father (which she pins on the upstanding Forrest Hearne) who can whisk her away from her gritty life in New Orleans. It’s not the same as Gatsby’s longing for Daisy, I grant you, but the longing is there. As for Downton, the Uptown/Downtown standards of living in Sepetys’ New Orleans parallel the upstairs/downstairs dynamic of the period drama.
Josie often makes the wrong choices for the right reasons, and I love that about her. She’s real: “salted peanuts,” a spitfire that’s good with a shotgun. She illustrates the lengths that we, as humans, are willing to stretch to when we’re desperate–but, even more than that, she sees where she’s headed and knows when to stop. Josie reminds us that, sometimes, our parents teach us exactly what we don’t want to be, and that’s okay. She had me hanging on until the last word.