Great Illustrated Books

Out of the Easy

By Ruta Sepetys

Philomel Books, 2013
Pages : 352
Suggested Ages: 14 and Up
ISBN: 9780399256929

The Big Easy has been anything but easy on Josie.

Josie has tried distancing herself from her mother, Louise. An addict, prostitute and thief, Louise has stolen money and hope from Josie and targeted Josie’s friends. And since Louise became enamored of one of Marcello’s mobsters, her crimes have become more violent. Willie, the sharp-tongued Madam – part wicked stepmother, part fairy godmother – advises Josie to cut ties but stay in the French Quarter,

Josie dreams of escaping easy altogether, working at a bookshop for lodging and saving the money she earns cleaning the brothel. Her plan is partly influenced by an encounter at the bookshop with a charming tourist, Forrest Hearne. He mistakes Josie for a college student, making Josie believe she could be one -- if she can attend a school where she is not known as a whore’s daughter. Cokie, the only man Josie trusts, supports the idea and in a deeply affecting scene, gives Josie a map with the road out of New Orleans marked plus a thermos for coffee to keep her awake during the long trip. Even handsome Jesse, potential love-interest, thinks Josie should go. Given the hope he inspired, Josie is stricken when she learns that Hearne has died suddenly, suspiciously, over drinks at the Sans Souci. In a tragic twist, she suspects Louise’s involvement. Worse, Louise buys an alibi for the night of the murder from Marcello, then skips town leaving Josie to pay the debt.

Set against the colorful backdrop of the festivities between New Year’s and Mardi Gras, the murder and the mobsters’ black hand of death on Josie’s back take on an ominous weight. Ruta Sepetys vividly describes the sights, sounds, and smells as well as the shady underbelly of New Orleans in 1950. Characters may seem archetypes on the surface – uptown men are users, the disenfranchised hide hearts of gold, and the gangsters are casually brutal – but Sepetys breathes life into them, letting them reveal themselves through their conversations and actions. In several cases, their histories also emerge, providing readers with rich portraits of complex individuals. Told in first person, readers become fully immersed in Josie’s emotions as they swing from compassion, hope, and longing to frustration, fear, and desperation. At her lowest, Josie underestimates herself and her friends. Finally, she remembers what Mr. Hearne told her, that decisions shape our destiny, and young adults who have walked a French Quarter-mile in Josie’s shoes will understand – some decisions are anything but easy.

Teacher Tips: Find out more about the author and the book and download the discussion guide at:

Reviewed by : JMcD


If you love this book, then try:

Brody, Jessica. Unremembered. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

Fredericks, Mariah. The Girl in the Park. Schwartz & Wade, 2012.

Patterson, James, and Maxine Paetro. Confessions of a Murder Suspect. Little, Brown and Company, 2012.

Sepetys, Ruta. Between Shades of Gray. Speak, 2012.

Critics have said

"Sepetys writes with rawness and palpable unease...the stakes are momentous."
The New York Times

"A haunting peek at the life of a teenage girl in 1950 New Orleans."
Entertainment Weekly

���Street-smart, literary and compassionate��_ Atmospheric and assured��_nicely paced novel.��
Wall Street Journal