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“A haunting peek at the life of a teenage girl in 1950s New Orleans.”Entertainment Weekly
It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.
Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.
With characters as captivating as those in her internationally bestselling novel Between Shades of Gray, Ruta Sepetys skillfully creates a rich story of secrets, lies, and the haunting reminder that decisions can shape our destiny.
Praise for OUT OF THE EASY
“Sepetys writes with rawness and palpable emotional unease…the stakes are momentous.”The New York Times Book Review
“Street-smart, literary and compassionate… Atmospheric and assured…nicely paced novel.”Wall Street Journal
* "A surefire winner. Immensely satisfying."Kirkus, starred review
New York Times bestseller
An Amazon Best Book of the Year 2013
A Kirkus Best Book of 2014
A Goodreads Best Young Adult Fiction Book of 2013
Yalsa Best Fiction for Young Adults nomination
Carnegie Medal Finalist
About the Author
Ruta Septeys is the multi-award-winning author of the critically acclaimed New York Times and international bestseller Between Shades of Gray. Born and raised in Michigan, Ruta grew up in a family of artists, readers, and music lovers. Her second novel, Out of the Easy, was published to rave reviews and high acclaim in February 2013. Ruta lives with her husband in Tennessee.
You can visit Ruta online at www.rutasepetys.com, and follow her on Twitter @RutaSepetys.
For more information, please visit: www.betweenshadesofgray.com and www.outoftheeasy.com.
Read an Excerpt
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.
She started working in 1940 when I was seven, the year we moved from Detroit to New Orleans. We took a cab from the train station straight to a fancy hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Mother met a man from Tuscaloosa in the lobby while having a drink. She introduced me as her niece and told the man she was delivering me to her sister. She winked at me constantly and whispered that she’d buy me a doll if I just played along and waited for her. I slept alone in the lobby that night, dreaming of my new doll. The next morning, Mother checked us in to our own big room with tall windows and small round soaps that smelled like lemon. She received a green velvet box with a strand of pearls from the man from Tuscaloosa.
“Josie, this town is going to treat us just fine,” said Mother, standing topless in front of the mirror, admiring her new pearls.
The next day, a dark-skinned driver named Cokie arrived at the hotel. Mother had received an invitation to visit someone important in the Quarter. She made me take a bath and insisted I put on a nice dress. She even put a ribbon in my hair. I looked silly, but I didn’t say anything to Mother. I just smiled and nodded.
“Now, Josie, you aren’t to say a thing. I’ve been hoping Willie would call for me, and I don’t need you messing things up with your stubbornness. Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to. And for gosh sakes, don’t start that humming. It’s spooky when you do that. If you’re good, I’ll buy you something real special.”
“Like a doll?” I said, hoping to jog her memory.
“Sure, hon, would you like a doll?” she said, finishing her sweep of lipstick and kissing the air in front of the mirror.
Cokie and I hit it off right away. He drove an old taxicab painted a foggy gray. If you looked close, you could see the ghost of taxi lettering on the door. He gave me a couple Mary Jane candies and a wink that said, “Hang in there, kiddo.” Cokie whistled through the gaps in his teeth as he drove us to Willie’s in his taxicab. I hummed along, hoping the molasses from the Mary Jane might yank out a tooth. That was the second night we were in New Orleans.
We pulled to a stop on Conti Street. “What is this place?” I asked, craning my neck to look at the pale yellow building with black lattice balconies.
“It’s her house,” said Cokie. “Willie Woodley’s.”
“Her house? But Willie’s a man’s name,” I said.
“Stop it, Josie. Willie is a woman’s name. Now, keep quiet!” said Mother, smacking my thigh. She smoothed her dress and fidgeted with her hair. “I didn’t think I’d be so nervous,” she muttered.
“Why are you nervous?” I asked.
She grabbed me by the hand and yanked me up the walk. Cokie tipped his hat to me. I smiled and waved back. The sheers in the front window shifted, covering a shadowy figure lit by an amber glow behind the glass. The door opened before we reached it.
“And you must be Louise,” a woman said to Mother.
A brunette in a velvet evening dress hung against the door. She had pretty hair, but her fingernails were chewed and frayed. Cheap women had split nails. I’d learned that in Detroit.
“She’s waitin’ for you in the parlor, Louise,” said the brunette.
A long red carpet ran from the front door to a tall staircase, crawling up and over each step. The house was opulent, gaudy, with deep green brocades and lamps with black crystals dangling from dimly lit shades. Paintings of nude women with pink nipples hung from the foyer walls. Cigarette smoke mingled with stale Eau de Rose. We walked through a group of girls who patted my head and called me sugar and doll. I remember thinking their lips looked like someone had smeared blood all over them. We walked into the front parlor.
I saw her hand first, veiny and pale, draped over the arm of an upholstered wingback. Her nails, glossy red like pomegranate seeds, could pop a balloon with a quick flick. Clusters of gold and diamonds adorned nearly every finger. Mother’s breathing fluttered.
I approached the hand, staring at it, making my way around the back of the chair toward the window. Black heels poked out from beneath a stiff tailored skirt. I felt the bow in my hair slide down the side of my head.
The voice was thick and had mileage on it. Her platinum-blond hair was pulled tight in a clasp engraved with the initials W.W. The woman’s eyes, lined in charcoal, had wrinkles fringing out from the corners. Her lips were scarlet, but not bloody. She was pretty once.
The woman stared at me, then finally spoke. “I said, ‘Hello, Louise.’”
“Hello, Willie,” said Mother. She dragged me in front of the chair. “Willie, this is Josie.”
I smiled and bent my scabby legs into my best curtsy. The arm with the red nails quickly waved me away to the settee across from her. Her bracelet jangled a discordant tune.
“So . . . you’ve returned.” Willie lifted a cigarette from a mother-of-pearl case and tapped it softly against the lid.
“Well, it’s been a long time, Willie. I’m sure you can understand.”
Willie said nothing. A clock on the wall swung a ticktock rhythm. “You look good,” Willie finally said, still tapping the cigarette against its case.
“I’m keeping myself,” said Mother, leaning back against the settee.
“Keeping yourself . . . yes. I heard you had a greenhorn from Tuscaloosa last night.”
Mother’s back stiffened. “You heard about Tuscaloosa?”
Willie stared, silent.
“Oh, he wasn’t a trick, Willie,” said Mother, looking into her lap. “He was just a nice fella.”
“A nice fella who bought you those pearls, I guess,” said Willie, tapping her cigarette harder and harder against the case.
Mother’s hand reached up to her neck, fingering the pearls.
“I’ve got good business,” said Willie. “Men think we’re headed to war. If that’s true, everyone will want their last jollies. We’d work well together, Louise, but . . .” She nodded in my direction.
“Oh, she’s a good girl, Willie, and she’s crazy smart. Even taught herself to read.”
“I don’t like kids,” she spat, her eyes boring a hole through me.
I shrugged. “I don’t like ’em much either.”
Mother pinched my arm, hard. I felt the skin snap. I bit my lip and tried not to wince. Mother became angry when I complained.
“Really?” Willie continued to stare. “So what do you do . . . if you don’t like kids?”
“Well, I go to school. I read. I cook, clean, and I make martinis for Mother.” I smiled at Mother and rubbed my arm.
“You clean and make martinis?” Willie raised a pointy eyebrow. Her sneer suddenly faded. “Your bow is crooked, girl. Have you always been that skinny?”
“I wasn’t feeling well for a few years,” said Mother quickly. “Josie is very resourceful, and—”
“I see that,” said Willie flatly, still tapping her cigarette.
I moved closer to Mother. “I skipped first grade altogether and started in the second grade. Mother lost track I was supposed to be in school—” Mother’s toe dug into my ankle. “But it didn’t matter much. She told the school we had transferred from another town, and I just started right in second grade.”
“You skipped the first grade?” said Willie.
“Yes, ma’am, and I don’t figure I missed anything at all.”
“Don’t ma’am me, girl. You’ll call me Willie. Do you understand?” She shifted in her chair. I spied what looked like the butt of a gun stuffed down the side of the seat cushion.
“Yes, Mrs. Willie,” I replied.
“Not Mrs. Willie. Just Willie.”
I stared at her. “Actually, Willie, I prefer Jo, and honestly, I don’t much care for bows.” I pulled the ribbon from my thick brown bob and reached for the lighter on the table.
“I didn’t ask for a light,” said Willie.
“No, but you’ve tapped your cigarette fifty-three times . . . now fifty-four, so I thought you might like to smoke it.”
Willie sighed. “Fine, Jo, light my cigarette and pour me a Scotch.”
“Neat or on the rocks?” I asked.
Her mouth opened in surprise, then snapped shut. “Neat.” She eyed me as I lit her cigarette.
“Well, Louise,” said Willie, a long exhale of smoke curling above her head, “you’ve managed to mess things up royal, now, haven’t you?”
“You can’t stay here, not with a child. You’ll have to get a place,” said Willie.
“I don’t have any money,” said Mother.
“Sell those pearls to my pawn in the morning and you’ll have some spending money. There’s a small apartment on Dauphine that one of my bookies was renting. The idiot went and got himself shot last week. He’s taking a dirt nap and won’t need the place. The rent is paid until the thirtieth. I’ll make some arrangements, and we’ll see where you are at the end of the month.”
“All right, Willie,” said Mother.
I handed Willie the drink and sat back down, nudging the bow under the settee with my foot.
She took a sip and nodded. “Honestly, Louise, a seven-year-old bartender?”
That was ten years ago. She never did buy me the doll.
What People are Saying About This
**STARRED REVIEW** Step right onto the rough streets of the New Orleans French Quarter, circa 1950…and meet 17-year-old Josie Moraine, a feisty young woman whose mother, a prostitute in a Conti Street brothel, offers her nothing but scorn and abuse. From the tender age of 12, Josie has made her own way in the world, working in a local bookstore in exchange for a safe place to sleep and cleaning the brothel to earn money toward her planned escape from the Big Easy. Equal parts book smart and street smart, Josie’s dream is to attend Smith College, and she will go to extremes, even blackmail, in her desperation to be accepted. But just when her plans start to gain some traction, her mother strikes again, putting Josie in the middle of a murder investigation and saddling her with a mob debt. There are some meaningful messages here: that love can come from the unlikeliest of sources—the rough-and-tumble brothel madam is much more supportive of Josie than her mother ever was—and that we are all in control of our own destinies if only we choose to be. With a rich and realistic setting, a compelling and entertaining first-person narration, a colorful cast of memorable characters and an intriguing storyline, this is a surefire winner. Immensely satisfying.Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Seventeen-year-old Josie can’t wait to get out of New Orleans, aka The Big Easy. It’s not easy growing up the daughter of a prostitute — especially when everyone in town knows who you are. Maybe it wouldn’t be THAT bad if her mother even pretended to care about her instead of the money she makes and her dreams of becoming a big star. Josie’s only solace comes from the bookstore she works and sleeps in and the few friends that she has. The money she makes at the bookstore is her ticket far away from here. But when someone is murdered in the French Corner, Josie finds her dreams of escape threatened. Turns out her mother was involved with a crime boss and he’s come for them, looking for repayment on an old debt. Loyalties are questioned, and personal limits tested as Josie does everything she can to get out of the easy. I love New Orleans, and Ms. Sepetys does a wonderful job of conveying it. Even though the story is set in the 1950′s, it still had the flair that I love and that little hint of danger that threatens to spring out at you from every corner. All of the characters are very rich. I really liked Josie’s strength and determination. She never had much of a life — always at the mercy of an uncaring mother. Heck, she was mixing drinks at the age of seven — umm, yeah! I really wanted her to finally get away and find happiness. The supporting characters (and there are quite a few) are all just as well-rounded. I loved Cokie, the cab driver with a heart of gold, and Patrick, one of Josie’s friends from the bookstore. I also liked Jesse, Josie’s potential love interest, though I did want a little more from him. On the flip side of that, we have Josie’s mother who is a hot mess, and Evangeline, one of the other “girls” at the brothel who was a total hag. I think the most intriguing secondary character had to have been Willie, the madame of the brothel. Willie is sugar and spice all rolled into one. She’s the only real mother figure Josie has and she actually takes care of Josie as best she can, even if she does say in the beginning of the book that she doesn’t care for kids. Ms. Sepetys has a way with words, and this book flowed very well. The imagery is great, and the pace fits the tone of the book. This book is very character driven and not exactly fast-paced, but it’s not meant to be. It’s not a thriller or a mystery (though there is a bit of a mystery involved and several “bad guys”), it’s a historical novel about a young girl trying to find her way. There’s a lot of depth and emotion between the pages which totally pulled me in. I haven’t read Between Shades of Grey, though I’d heard wonderful things about it. People raved about the author’s writing, and I have to say, they were right. This book made me a fan of hers. This one is heartbreaking, hopeful and fully captivating. I highly recommend it. Even if you’re not into historical fiction, I would say you should give it a try. It reads more like a contemporary book. The characters are rich, the story captivating and the writing top-notch.
I really loved Ruta Sepetys' first book, so when I saw she wrote a second one, I decided to check it out. Out of the Easy, in my opinion, was even better than Between Shades of Gray, and not as heavy. I loved the main character, Josie. She is a very strong girl and a dynamic character; I have never read about anyone like her. Like Between Shades of Gray, this book is not for younger audiences. There's a lot of prostitution going on, and a couple explicit scenes, but this book is great for teens. Overall, I really enjoyed Out of the Easy, and I look forward to Ruta Sepetys' next book!
I loved this book so much! It was was exiting and it never got boring. The characters where so well written. It is my new number one favorite book! Please read it it's so good for all ages 13 and up! MUST READ!!!!!!!!!!!
Loved it. Could hardly put it down.
Ruta Sepetys is a gifted author! Out of the Easy is a wonderful novel about a young woman who has to fight her way out of where she is and into where she wants to be. Loved it!
Out of the Easy was such a pleasant surprise. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Even now, I am still thinking about this book and how amazing it is. Out of the Easy is about the life of Josie, the daughter of a brothel prostitute in New Orleans in the 1950s. However all Josie wants is to get out of New Orleans, go to college, and leave behind the life that she never wanted that includes an uncaring and rather heartless mother and the work prospects that seem to be pressuring her into submitting to. Josie is a very strong willed and confident female protagonist. Not many girls can move away from their own home at the age of 11 and get their own apartment on top of a book shop and hold a steady job there up to now, at the age of 17. This takes a ton of presistance and determination. Josie also never dwelled on how horrible her life is, but thought of ways to get away from it and improve it. Also, having a mother like the one Josie has? my god, I would have disowned myself ages ago. Her mother is not only caring but is obsessing with a dangerous man that has hit her more than once, and actually steals.. from her own daughter. However Josie does have a mother figure in her life and, surprisingly, it is the madame of the brothel, Willie Woodley. From the outside she may seem to be tough as steel, but when it comes to Josie? you know she would do anything for her. The relationship between those two, even if unconventional, was so heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. Other secondary characters include Patrick, Jesse, and Cokie. The first is her close friend, the second is the love interest, and the third is sort of like her guardian; he is a driver who works for Willie and is always looking out for Josie. I have to say that romance isn't a prevailing theme in this novel, but I am a fan of romance in my novels and I still ended up loving Out of the Easy, so I would honestly recommend it to all young adult readers. I believe that Out of the Easy is a literary gem. It is one of those books with so many underlaying themes and "morales of the story" that I think everyone should at least try to pick this book up. I know for a fact that if you did, you would be swept up and to the world of Josie and the dreams that she, and you, want to come true.
Really great and fast read! Fresh characters, fresh story line!
Ruta Sepeteys has done it again...her first book, Between Shades of Gray, was amazing and now Out of the Easy is even better. The characters are believable and written well. I love historical fiction and can't wait for her to write another one...enjoy!
I loved this book! I read it in a day, it pulls you in and and surprises you. Really quick easy read, great story line and characters. I wanted to read more! I definitley recommend this book.
If you're interested in strong female narrators, this is a book for you! Jo, constantly torn between what she wants and what's easy, represents a struggle that resonates with all generations. Set in 1950 New Orleans, Sepetys has created a vivid and sometimes gritty background that only illuminates Jo's realities and her desires. Alongside a cast of tough, caring, and sometimes ridiculous characters, this is a book that will stay with you long after you've read the last page.
I might read
Outstanding character development, inspiring, and sucked me into the plot.
This book was pretty atypical for YA. It's historical fiction. Josie is the daughter of a prostitute living in New Orleans in 1950. She's tried to distance herself from her mother and lives in an apartment above the bookshop where she works. But she also cleans the brothel where her mother works. She has a rather unusual collection of friends - the brothel madam, her colored driver, the bookstore owners son, a motorcycle riding boy, and a collegiate woman down from Massachusetts visiting her aunt and uncle. Josie wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans and go to Smith College with her new friend Charlotte. She's a strong woman and she's going to make her dream come true even though everything seems to be conspiring against her. It took me about half of the book to really get into this story. I liked Jo right away, but things were a bit slow moving for me. Once things got really crazy though with the murder investigation, I was pretty hooked and routing for Jo to out of there! I enjoyed the characters in this book a lot, and I would definitely read more about them (i.e. a sequel if there ever was one), but I don't think I'd read this book again. http://www.momsradius.com/2016/07/book-review-out-of-easy-ya.html
Really good with descriptiveness and character development, but I wish there was more resolution with the murder investigation.
Name: Please look up idiots. Age: 21 moons. Appearance: reddish-brown she cat with brown paws. Hazel eyes. Mate: None. Anything else ask.
Ruta Sepetys is one of a very small number of authors responsible for renewing my interest in historical fiction--thanks in large part to her knack for bringing places to life. Place, to me, is such an important part of history, and it takes a special kind of skill to make a place, or time, that no longer exists seem relevant. In Out of the Easy, 1950s New Orleans is just as prominent a character as Josie, Willie Woodley, or Patrick, and just as captivating. Sepetys's portrayal of the Big Easy and its diverse residents drew me in, and the mystery that entangles them all kept me reading as fast as I could. I highly, highly recommend this one.
This book was really great! Josie is awesome and the book has lots of twists and turns
"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." Josie Moraine's mother has been working as a prostitute for the past ten years, since she and Josie moved to New Orleans in 1940. It's 1950 now. Josie is seventeen. And she wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans once and for all. While her mother is content to tie herself to whichever man comes along, Josie works cleaning the brothel where her mother works and at a bookstore as she works to save enough money for college and her ticket out of the Big Easy. Josie's careful escape plan is put into jeopardy when she becomes tangled in the investigation of a mysterious death in the Quarter. Torn between her allegiance to Willie Woodley, the madame who has been more of a mother to Josie than her own, and her fierce desire to leave New Orleans behind, Josie will have to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice in her search for the truth in Out of the Easy (2013) by Ruta Sepetys. Out of the Easy is Sepetys' second novel and her follow-up to Between Shades of Gray. Josie is a determined heroine but she also has a very reductive view of the world--particularly given her background. While Josie, her family, and many of her friends operate in what can only be called grey areas of the law--Josie's views remain very black and white. She is friends with Willie and some of the girls who work at the brothel. But she also views them at a remove. As the opening of the novel (quoted above) might suggest, there is also always a slight hint of distaste. While this story is an evocative historical novel, the lush setting often serves to emphasize a lackluster plot. A lot of things happen to Josie in the story but despite being self-sufficient in a financial sense, Josie is very short on actual agency. Throughout the novel Josie's fate falls into the hands of others. Eventually she does break free and choose her own path, but it comes very late in the story only after her inaction has dramatic consequences. Yet everything still manages to resolve very neatly and decidedly in Josie's favor. Sepetys once again delivers a well-researched historical novel in Out of the Easy. This novel brings the world of 1950 New Orleans to vivid life with a setting that is as vibrant and evocative as any of the characters found within these pages. Out of the Easy is an engrossing historical novel ideal for readers who want to get lost in a book's vividly described settings. Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters
I would highly reccomend this book. With likeable characters and little bit of mystery I couldn't put it down. Like Sepetey's other book this was a time in history that I knew very little about and I was happy to learn more.
It is a really good book. When I was a reading it made me not put the book down. It is really good. It is about Josie trying to get of New Orleans. I want to say more but I don't want to spoil the ending.
A truly lovely book. I was left feeling uplifted and entertained. The characters were fabulous and I loved them all - even the ones I loved to hate. There is just enough detail and hints at 'taboo' subjects to start young minds thinking without doing damage. Respect for others is a recurring theme and well presented. All in all a book I wish had been around when my kids were younger.
Wonderful read; i adore mrs ruta sepetys! Recommend for ages 14 and up due to content.