This novel begins in 1950. Josie Moraine is the 17-year-old daughter of a selfish, shallow, and greedy mother who works as a prostitute in the New Orleans brothel run by the madam Willy Woodley. Willy acts as a sort of surrogate mother to Josie, who at age 12 had to find a place to stay away from her abusive mother and her customers. Ever since then, Josie cleans in the brothel in the mornings, but at night she sleeps in a room over the local bookstore where she works in the afternoon. What Josie wants most of all is to get out of New Orleans and to be considered “normal,” rather than “the daughter of a whore.” She reads, studies, and saves money, so she can go to college. When she hears about Smith College from a patron, Charlotte, who becomes her friend, she aspires to go there.
In spite of the drawbacks of Josie’s life, she has a very strong support system. Charlie Marlowe, the owner of the bookstore, gave her the room and has treated her like a daughter. Patrick, his son, is a good friend to Josie, and helps her learn the book trade. Cokie, Sadie, and others who work for Willy all are rooting for Josie to achieve her dreams. A local boy who clearly likes Josie, Jesse Thierry, also comes to her aid whenever he can.
But there are complications for Josie. She finds it hard, through no fault of her own, to get away from the disaster that is her mother. Her mother’s abusive boyfriend, called “Cincinnati,” has vowed to get revenge on Josie for pouring hot coffee on him (while she was defending her mother). Various “tricks” at the brothel keep pressuring Josie to join the profession. The local gang holds Josie responsible for her mother’s thefts, and Josie even suspects her mother of murder, the repercussions for which also threaten to spread to Josie’s life.
Whether she can get “out of the easy” with her burdens is not an assured thing.
Evaluation: This book has an intriguing storyline, very likable characters, and a great setting. I found it consistently interesting.
Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award Nominee for Young Adults (2015)
Michigan Library Association Thumbs Up! Award for Honor book (2014)
Abraham Lincoln Award Nominee (2015)
Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Young Adult Fiction (2013)
Carnegie Medal Nominee (2014)
Missouri Gateway Readers Award Nominee (2016)
Published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2013