Saturday, December 21, 2013

Book Review: Out of the Easy

Since the end of the year is very close by now this means two things, one that all of the books I read that came out in 2013 get priority for being reviewed (so that everyone knows what I'm talking about in my end of year wrap-up) and two that I'm now suddenly finding all of said books at the local library, it seems to happen this way every year. I seem to recall hearing about this book this past summer and while it's not quite my cup of tea (straight historical fiction which I could tell from the setting was going to be running into a lot of ugly stereotypes) it sounded interesting enough so I was more than happy to pick it up when I came across it in person.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

Summary: The second world war has passed and even though America is changing as it goes from the 1940s to the 1950s Josei doesn't feel like her life is changing much at all. She still works in a bookstore in New Orleans and cleans the brothel where her mother lives and works and tries to stay as far away from her mother and her dangerous choice in men as much as she can. But hopefully that won't be for much longer, Josei has her mind set on college and yet as she starts trying to change her life she finds it threatened by external forces as well and it's hard to tell which will be the greater obstacle to overcome.

The Good: Josie is what many would call a strong, interesting character who has dealings with the less-than-savory part of society (read: whores) yet manages to triumph without having to lose that part of herself to it. Thankfully she's more than just that particular trope and I did like how she was always able to keep moving forward even when she was scared and also liked how her relationships with the other characters, romantic and otherwise, were handled. I'm not so sure how I feel about Willie when all was said and done, I feel like some part of her character was missing or done so subtly I missed it (also not so happy with how her story ended but I'm less than thrilled about how the entire book ended), but she also avoided some major cliches and I liked hearing about her childhood and realizing how just those few details managed to flesh her out so much.

The Bad: While I certainly do praise the story for having a imperfect ending I can't help but feel that when the story ends very little has changed at all. For some of the side characters quite a bit has changed and largely for the better but for Josei I felt like very little had changed either about her or her life in some ways. Obviously to be detailed would mean to spoil the entire story but to say what I can, while she now has more opportunities to live a different life she still isn't living one yet and it does feel like an odd way to end the story. Perhaps Sepetys felt like telling the story of how she succeeded would be too neat and instead wanted to tell the story of how Josei had to fight to even get to this place but it was a little disconcerting to finish reading about everything she's been through and realize that very little has actually happened, especially given the happy tone it ends on.

So, this book was far, far from bad yet not quite to my taste either and for that I'll give it a 3.5 out of 5 and a recommendation if you like historical fiction (I know some places label historical fiction as everything pre 1945 but 1950 is just too far removed from 2013 for it to be contemporary) especially that set around New Orleans.