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Confessions of a Bibliophile

An aspiring writer and bookstore employee with an incredibly bad book-buying habit... I'll read just about anything (so long as it will appeal to my interests in some way), but my main loves are YA and sci-fi/fantasy. I also like quirky history and science books and will book nerd. A lot. Currently in the process of weeding out my personal library. Find me on Twitter @princess_starr or check out my YA book, Snowfall, on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/240027

Out of the Easy

Out of the Easy - Confession/disclaimer: I have not read Between Shades of Grey. I’ve recommended it to a lot of people (my mom and both grandmothers included), and I actually have a copy of it. But part of the reason I haven’t gotten to it is my hype aversion, and I will eventually get to it in my library read.(I gave my mom Between Shades of Grey for a family vacation. My aunt asks her what she’s reading and my mom tells her the title. My aunt: You’re reading WHAT?! My mom: No, not that book. Laura won’t allow it.)I actually like it when historical YA touches on post-WWII history, especially when they get into the social changes that WWII precipitated. And I bring this up, because I felt like Out of the Easy could have really explored this, but it just managed to fall short of the mark. I liked it, I did, but it didn’t completely blow my mind. My biggest problem here is that this is a really white-washed version of New Orleans circa 1950. One of the big reasons why Josie says that she wants to go to college in New England is that they allow for segregation…except that aside from her token black mentor, there’s really no bearing on this in the plot at all. And aside from Cokie and one another character, there’s really not a lot of diversity in here. The only people who make racist statements are Josie’s mother and her boyfriend, and it’s pretty clear that they’re not good people. I’m not saying that I absolutely need to see racial slurs every other page, but the complete lack of it took me out of the book. It feels like Josie feels the need to mention that she wants to go to a segregated school to illustrate how forward thinking she is! And while I understand the problems of having a period-accurate liberal thinker, especially in YA, I don’t like that there’s never any pay-off. (What we consider to be fairly liberal in today’s standards would have been radical for the time.) Additionally, the class warfare aspect never really comes to full fruition. There’s one really good awkward scene of Josie and Patrick visiting the wealthy Gates family and how out of place they feel. But I never got the idea of how looked down Josie was. Aside from her interactions with the Gates family (Mr. Gates specifically), there’s never really any scenes of anyone else treating Josie like dirt because she’s a prostitute’s daughter. Josie’s decision to disassociate with her mother and the madam who helped raise her is the driving force of the book, but there’s no scenes of Josie running into mean girl debutantes or even talked down to, with the exception of Mr. Gates. And even his involvement in the story feels so overdone—I’ve seen the older man taking advantage of a young woman before. And while I like that Josie stands up for herself, it feels more like an isolated incident. So much of the book talks about how trashy Josie’s background is, but we never see any of it aside from “Oh, Mother embarrasses me so when she’s around.” And that’s my main problem with Josie. I don’t know much about her or what she wants. Oh, it’s all fine and dandy that she doesn’t want to go to college in the South for an MRS degree, but aside from the intellectual challenge, why is Josie so desperate to go to Smith? I don’t have anything that makes me want to associate with Josie and her frustrations for getting out of New Orleans. It felt very cut and dry, and I was really hoping for more from her. But I will say when Josie did start growing a backbone in regards to her mother and Cincinnati, I did get to like her a little more. And I liked Josie’s little moments with Patrick and Charlotte, especially when she’s desperate to impress Charlotte. The other thing I liked about Josie’s story is her desperation in finding out about the murder of Mr. Forrest Hearne, especially once she discovers her mother was involved. I liked that not only does Josie openly discusses her own private wish that Mr. Hearne could have been her father, but she acknowledges how ridiculous it is. I also really liked that his death isn’t really treated as a big deal by most of the other characters; it’s a nice touch of realism to the plot, that most deaths, even murders, are just another poor sap who got unlucky. The only character that I did really like was Patrick. He felt the most human to me, with him struggling with his father’s illness and his own sexuality. (Another example of how white-washed this version of history is: Josie is completely fine with Patrick’s admitting he’s gay and there’s absolutely no discussion of how dangerous it is for Patrick to be seen with his lover around town.) Patrick knows what his mistakes are, and that he does feel angry and upset at his father for getting sick and acknowledges that it’s a problem. And then Patrick regrets what he’s said. It’s a very human thing, and probably one of the more realistic things about the book overall. I also did like Jesse, although he felt more like a convenient love interest for Josie. They had a great chemistry together, but much like Josie, I felt like I didn’t really know that much about him either.The main problem overall with the book is the lack of follow-through, not only in plot but with the characters as well. I mentioned above that the book wants to touch on the class warfare, but it’s never allowed to come to full fruition. There’s a scene where Willie, the madam who helped raise Josie, mention that she’ll never fit in at a good school because Josie’s “salted peanuts.” Except again, we never get that much interaction between Josie and the upper classes. There’s only the one scene at the Gates’s house, and from there on, Josie only meets with Mr. Gates to try to get a letter of recommendation. It also really bothered me that a character like Cokie is regulated to being the Black Mentor Figure—even his last minute inheritance at the end didn’t really do much for me.This is not to completely knock the book. Septys is a fantastic writer, and she does write quite beautifully. The scenery description is excellent, and I do like a lot of the dialogue between Josie and Patrick or Charlotte, and her little character moments. But I also feel like this a book that wants to talk about big ideas, and especially for the 1950s, and I just never get any follow-through. It ignores a lot of the burdening social change that was occurring at the time, and it feels like I’m only supposed to sympathize with Josie because she thinks ahead of her time. Which I would be fine with if Septys had decided to explore the classism and racism to the fullest extent. It’s not a bad book, but I was definitely underwhelmed when I read it.