It’s 1954, and for most of her nearly 18 years, Josie has grown up in the New Orleans French Quarter, the daughter of a prostitute. Josie has spent her whole life working to separate herself from the expectations that come with being the daughter of a prostitute. She reads. She works at — and lives above — a bookstore. She did well in school, and has hopes for the future. Sure, she cleans the whorehouse — she has an agreement and a friendship with the owner, Willie — coming in the early mornings. But what she really wants is to get out of New Orleans and get into Smith College, reinventing herself.
Unfortunately, life — and her mother, who is beyond selfish — are conspiring against her. There’s been a murder, in which Josie’s mother is implicated. The mob gets involved. There are a couple of boys she has feelings for. The health of the owner of the bookstore — a surrogate father for Josie — is failing. And she’s not sophisticated enough to get a reference for Smith. All are making her question her decision to get out. Maybe a daughter of a New Orleans whore should just embrace it.
Even though I’ve read Sepetys’s first book, Between Shades of Gray, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this one. New Orleans is such a vastly different place than Stalin’s Russia. But, upon reflection, maybe there are similarities. Both Lina and Josie are trapped by circumstances out of control. And even though Lina’s circumstances are more life-threatening (Josie always carries a gun, however; the French Quarter is not exactly a safe place for a young girl, even in the 1950s), Josie is just as trapped, just as desirous of freedom as Lina is.
Additionally, Josie is such a great character to root for; I wanted her to get out, to succeed. I felt her heartbreak, her anger, her hope. Which is really the mark of a great writer. Sepetys knows how to engage the reader, to write in a way that makes these characters fully dimensional. Even though her choice of subjects is not pretty, her writing is gorgeous.
Which means this is novel shouldn’t be missed.
Rated: Moderate — there is some violence, and a few mild swear words. Also, frank discussion of sex, though no actual sex scenes.