The French Quarter of New Orleans is no place for a child. Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute, grew up there and made her own way by cleaning the brothel and working in a bookstore. She’s 17 now and ready to make a better name for herself, which means getting away from her past. When a murder ties all the strands of her life in knots, will Josie make it Out of the Easy in one piece?

Author Ruta Sepetys (Between Shades of Gray) sets her story in 1950 and decorates it with both glamour and grime. The city’s nightlife is decadent, but morning finds the streets littered with broken glass, Mardi Gras beads and bottles. Josie cleans up after nights of revelry, finding a high heel here, a cufflink there, and delivers them to madam Willie Woodley, whose brusque manner belies a genuine love for this tough, smart girl.

There are many supporting players here: mechanic Jesse and Josie’s best friend Patrick, either of whom may be a potential suitor; the working girls who’ve watched Josie grow up; and Cokie, Willie’s driver and right-hand man, who wants to help Josie escape and get an education. Through all the plot twists, Josie’s desire to better herself and maintain a moral center in a place where that’s decidedly unfashionable keeps us in her corner.

Out of the Easy has a mystery at its center, but in many ways it’s a book about family and how the ones you’re born to aren’t necessarily your true tribe. Rough-edged and glamorous by turns, this is a wild ride worth taking.

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Read a Q&A with Ruta Sepetys for Out of the Easy.

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