March 31, 2014

Cybils Finalist Review: OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys

One of this year's Cybils finalist titles in YA Fiction was Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, who wrote the much-acclaimed Between Shades of Gray. Sepetys seems, so far, to specialize in historical fiction, which is a genre I've come to appreciate and enjoy far more as an adult than when I was growing up. With the exception of the Little House books, and anything by Scott O'Dell, I was not that interested in historical fiction growing up. As a teen, in particular, I was reading either contemporary YA fiction (don't ask which ones, because they're kind of embarrassing), mysteries (YA and adult), and SFF (YA and adult).

I bring this up because one of the points of discussion in our Round 2 panel this year was the idea of teen appeal. And, well, one of my only reservations about this book—which I really enjoyed—had to do with that elusive idea of reader appeal. Is historical fiction a genre with broad appeal among teen readers? As an adult, I loved it, but would I have loved it as a teen? Do boy readers enjoy historical fiction, and will they pick up a book with a female protagonist if it's got plenty of action and grit? These are questions I really can't answer, but the fact that they came up more than once made for an interesting discussion in our group.

As for my personal reaction to this one, I enjoyed it quite a lot more than I thought I would, and I was expecting to like it—I can't help being a fan of the Girl-From-Rough-Origins-Claws-Her-Way-Out-By-Her-Wits-and-Makes-Good scenario. It's a classic setup, no? Josie, the protagonist, has goals and dreams most anyone would relate to: she wants to be free of the burden of her no-good mother and get into college so she can have a better life than the one everyone expects her to sink into on the streets of the Big Easy, New Orleans.

It's 1950, and the French Quarter is rife with proto-greasers (like potential love interest Jesse), prostitutes with hearts of gold (yeah, I know; but they are GREAT characters), and seedy criminals, one of whom is seeing Josie's mother. Her mother, a prostitute who seems to have NO heart, skips town and lands Josie in the thick of things, even though all Josie wants is to earn her way in the bookstore where she works and eventually get the hell out of there. The mystery and suspense of Josie's increasingly tense situation are well drawn, as she is forced into deeper involvement with a murder investigation.

The characters are colorful and dynamic in this one—whether some of them are a bit exaggerated is a matter of opinion, but I thought it worked well for the style of the story. The good characters are not only likeable, but lovably flawed, while the baddies are truly icky. Because of the clarity of the writing, I was able to focus on the characters' voices and the building suspense—I would describe the writing as unpretentious, and that was a very positive thing. Ultimately, Josie has to make some realistically difficult decisions in order to put her goals and her personal life back in order. The ending did feel a bit rushed in this regard—loose ends get tied up very quickly—but overall, this was a really enjoyable read.

You can find Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys online, or at an independent bookstore near you!

1 comment:

tanita✿davis said...

I heard a lot of good things about this one... I am picky about fiction set in Louisiana, but this sounds good.