By Ruta Sepetys
To Be Released, February 12, 2013
Josie Moraine longs to live a life free of her mother’s reputation—to start fresh, get an education, and be counted among the “uptown” folk. Yet, that’s not likely to happen as long as Josie lives in New Orleans, where her mother works as a prostitute in scrappy Willie Woodley’s brothel. And even though Josie has lived alone since she was ten years old in a small room above the bookstore where she works, everyone knows what a scoundrel Josie’s mother, Louise, is. Now Louise’s criminal ways may not only cast a shadow over Josie’s dreams, they might also get Josie killed.
The Quarter is a neighborhood filled with predators and prey; and Josie, with the help of Willie, who owns and operates her mother’s brothel, is determined not to become prey. Rarely do characters like Josie, who embodies idealism and innocence combined with a “salty” edge, exist and thrive in conjunction with cantankerous individuals like Willie. Yet, not only does the relationship between these two individuals work, the relationship is fundamental to Josie’s personality. Who would Josie be without hard-nosed Willie, who is more of a mother to Josie than Josie’s own narcissistic, parasite of a mother, Louise? Other characters in the novel function as Josie’s surrogate family, like gentle limo-driver Cokie who supports her dream of an elite college, Josie’s beloved best friend Patrick and Patrick’s critically-ill father who provides Josie with a home. Contrast those individuals with the novel’s despicable predators in the story, like felon Cincinnati, who has threatened Josie’s life, and the revolting Mr. Lockwell, and it seems that everywhere Josie turns she meets a roadblock to her goal of education and success. Short chapters in the novel move the conflict expertly forward, and a level of mystery over an unexplained death permeates the entire text without distracting from the complicated relationships that are constantly developing throughout. Readers who have never been to “The Quarter” in New Orleans will get a realistic, first-hand view of this community and its culture through Josie’s eyes. Instead of the splashes of cool color, delicious cuisine and endless parties most readers might imagine, Josie describes hot neighborhoods riddled with poverty, secrecy, shady characters, and staunch tradition. Sepetys has created a rich, layered story of a girl who desires more than she has been given, and one that will please readers of historical fiction, and fans of her first novel, Between Shades of Gray.Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!