Ruta Sepetys' first book had the unusual coincidence of a title that includes the words "Shades of Gray" though her YA novel, Between Shades of Gray, is about as far from the 50 Shades variety as you can get. A powerful story of a teenage Lithuanian girl torn from her family and sent to a labor camp during the Russian invasion of 1939, Sepetys received wide praise and some strange book tour events for Between Shades of Gray and I was really excited when I found out she had a new novel coming this month.
Out of the Easy is very different from her debut and confirmed that I want to read whatever Ruta Sepetys writes. This time the setting is the French Quarter of New Orleans in 1950, and Josie is the teenage daughter of a prostitute who does her more harm than good. Determined to avoid following in her mother's footsteps Josie forges her own path with street smarts, a passion for books, and the help of a remarkable family of her own choosing. Mobsters and madams, book store owners and debutantes--I loved them all, and this New Orleans story full of danger and promise held me hostage until the bittersweet end. After we chose Out of the Easy as our top pick for the Best YA books of February, I sent Ruta Sepetys some questions about the book, author crushes, and more--here are her answers:
Q: Out of the Easy is set in New Orleans—what are some of your favorite things to do, see, and eat, in Big Easy?
RS: Favorite things to do: People watch in the French Quarter, visit the Williams Research Center, browse stores for books and antiques.
Favorite things to see: The interior courtyards of the buildings in the French Quarter. They seem full of secrets!
Favorite things to eat: Breakfast at Croisant d'Or Patisserie, Oysters at Bourbon House, Eggplant caviar at Bayona, Pasta at The Italian Barrell
Q: Josie and Patrick play a game of guessing a customer’s reading tastes when they walk in the bookstore– what do you think a YA reader would look like these days?
RS: I think these days Josie and Patrick would be wagering on dystopian vs. paranormal!
Q: During your research, what’s the craziest story you heard from a French Quarter resident about the 1950s?
RS: A man owed money to a New Orleans mobster for a gambling debt. The mobster supposedly cut off the man's finger and sent it to his family in a coffee can with a note that said, "Pay up." Yikes!
Q: Are you working on your next book idea? Any places/time periods that are asking for their story?
RS: Yes, I'm currently working on my third novel. It takes place in East Prussia at the end of WWII.
Q: I already know your childhood author crush was Roald Dahl, do you have an author crush now?
RS: I don't currently have an author crush but I have a character crush. I swoon over John Thornton from Elizabeth Gaskell's novel "North & South." Watch the BBC series version and you'll see what I mean. You'll forget all about Mr. Darcy.
Q: What’s the last book you stayed up all night to finish?
RS: "West With the Night" by Beryl Markham. I've read it several times and can never seem to pull myself from it. The language and sense of place are just gorgeous.