Author: Ruta Sepetys
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: February 12, 2013
Age Group: YA
My first Midnight Garden review was on Ruta Sepetys' debut Between Shades of Gray. So naturally, I thought it fitting for my first review of this year to be on her second novel Out of the Easy. Sadly, the experience was as far and distinct as the setting in the two books. I was disappointed to say the least. Out of the Easy missed nearly every mark and lacked all the heartbreaking finesse we found in her first novel. Not that there isn't an emotional hook -- the subject matter, while not as ambitious as Between Shades of Gray, is one that could lift the spirit, offer all the grandiose hope we look for in art of all venues.
Out of the Easy is about Josie. She is the daughter of a prostitute, she lives in the Quarter, she works alternately between the bookshop and the brothel, and she is smart. She is smart and determined and optimistic. She dreams of attending college and finally getting out of dirty, wicked New Orleans. I see a pattern in Sepetys' writing: young women with a strong will and an inner compass they steer to get them to a better place. Inspiring. The idea is wonderful and I hope it's a pattern that continues. But life is a journey, not a destination, yes? And this book's journey is just simply...flat. Reading Out of the Easy gave me the distinct feeling of "going through the motions". This is a quick read, the chapters come and go in a blink of an eye. And I felt as if every scene was written and included because it is the formula.
I think I've figured out my problem with Sepetys: there just isn't enough. I felt that way with Between Shades of Gray and I feel it even more potently now. She doesn't given enough background, enough explanation, enough action, enough of anything. Josie is a girl who has been made fun of all her life -- yet we don't really experience this alienation. Sure, some people turn away from her in a couple of scenes but it is not enough. Josie is supposed to be intelligent, a true scholar -- yet the only factors to explore this is her desire to attend school and her job in the bookshop. We see her badly wanting to be admitted but I would've liked to see her be the scholar, be this girl that is being described.
There is a love triangle (sort of) and Josie's reactions to both boys seem off and abrupt -- because again, we are not given enough of her relationship with either boy to understand how or why she reacts the way she does. And with Josie herself...I never really got her. She seemed an Everyman. Like she is a manifestation of us within the book and all she did was choose the path that would appease us all. She wasn't her own person. She didn't have quirks that made her solid and memorable. She was bread.
On a more positive note, the clouds did occasionally part and I caught glimpses of the writer I loved all those months ago. There were sudden slices of sincere heartache, ones that finally had me rooting for Josie. Slices, however, and sudden. There were also some colourful side characters -- but then, aren't they all? Anyway, they got me through. Some of them. Oh, and New Orleans. I think Sepetys did a fair enough job of transporting readers into this old, mythic, succulent and sinful place. It could've been more effecting but I will say that it was one of my lesser complaints.
So it was a disappointment. I eventually found myself skimming near the end. I'm not giving up, though because I have this feeling that if Sepetys is inspired enough, and really, truly driven to tell a story of relevance as I think was the case with Between Shades of Gray (not so much with Out of the Easy) I think it will be marvelous. Maybe next January...
This review also appears on Goodreads.