One of the best YA historicals I’ve read since I started blogging is Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. It had great characters, a compelling plot, and taught me a lot about an important historical event–everything I hope for from historical fiction. So I was thrilled to see a new Sepetys book had been released: Out of the Easy.
This book is set in an entirely different location and time period and has an entirely different tone. It’s more of a YA noir/crime historical. It reminds me a bit of What I Saw and How I Lied or of Strings Attached by Judy Blundell.
There are other important characters. Willie, the brothel owner, is a tough-minded, warm-hearted business woman. She has been more of a mother to Josie than her own mother ever was. There is a driver/messenger who works for Willie named Cokie, who is Josie’s friend and protector. There are the various "girls" at the brothel–Josie knows them all pretty well since, besides working in the bookstore, she also cleans the brothel in the mornings. And there is handsome Jesse Thierry, a nice young mechanic who frequently appears when she needs some support.
Josie is intelligent, well-read, and ambitious. She wants out of New Orleans. She is saving all her money to go to college someplace where she won’t be known as the prostitute’s daughter. With a support system of sorts in place, it seems possible, although unlikely, that Josie will find a way out. Except that on New Year’s Eve, a wealthy, cultured, kind man enters the bookstore and buys two books, chatting with Josie as he does so. She’s impressed with him. She likes him. The next day, she learns that he died mysteriously later that night.
Josie’s world, which was shady even under normal circumstances, unravels even more as the mysterious circumstances of his death stretch closer and closer to her.
Out of the Easy is a well-plotted YA historical. It’s not exactly a mystery, since it’s pretty clear from early on whodunnit. I thought some of the set-up of the plotting was a little strained, and some of it was a little predictable. (Are all madames tough business women with hearts of gold?) However, it’s interesting to watch Josie work her way through the tangles and I did root for her to succeed. Although not a must-read like Between Shades of Gray, it is entertaining!
I'm adding this to my Historical Fiction Challenge, hosted by Historical Tapestry. Come see what other historical fiction fans are reading!