20 greatest works of fiction about New Orleans

14 of 21

Out of the Easy (Cover image via Penguin)

8. Out of the Easy

It’s the fate of most teenagers that they want to be somewhere else. It rarely matters where, really, so long as it is somewhere that is supposedly more exciting and enriching than their current digs. If nothing else, this imagined place need only be different.

That might be an especially difficult task for Josie Moraine, the heroine at the center of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. The book opens with a striking scene, where Josie’s mother, Louise, goes up to a hotel room with a john. Josie, then only seven years old, is left to nap in the hotel’s lobby.

As the daughter of a prostitute, Josie faces extra social burdens. Even though she is intelligent and energetic, it remains difficult to escape her mother’s world. As she grows older, men start to solicit Josie herself, assuming that she will follow in her dissolute mother’s footsteps.

Though the other women working in the bordello are generally kind and thoroughly human, Louise is hard to redeem. She has a violent boyfriend, steals Josie’s college savings, and even shows up to a school meeting wearing nothing beneath her fur coat.

Josie herself has other plans. She befriends a local bookstore owner and gains a space of her own in the store’s attic. However, a bookstore customer is killed, with evidence pointing towards Louise’s involvement. With both gangsters and the police moving in, will Josie be able to escape the seedy side of New Orleans? It’s hard to tell, but Sepetys delivers Josie’s story in raw, beautiful prose.