Josie Moraine lives in New Orleans in 1950. She's 17, and her only family is Willie, a madam who owns a whorehouse and keeps an eye on Josie. Josie's mother is absolutely horrid and cannot stand her daughter. I mean she really hates her own child. She's a drunk, a whore, and runs with the very wrong crowd. She will steal from anyone and everyone--including her daughter. Josie is smart, kind, and determined to go to college. She just doesn't know how to do it. Until she meets Charlotte, who comes into the bookshop Josie works at, and befriends Josie. Charlotte goes to Smith College, and she encourages Josie to apply. This begins Josie's quest to apply to Smith College--her way out of New Orleans and into a better life. But the road is very bumpy, and she has many obstacles to overcome.
What I most enjoyed about this novel was the cast of characters that surround Josie. What she lacks in blood relations is made up by all of the people around her who love her, guide her, and take care of her: Willie; Cokie, Willie's driver; Jesse, a young mechanic who has feelings for Josie; Patrick, a young man who's father owns the bookshop Josie work at; and Charlie--the owner of the bookshop who gives Josie a place to live on her own at age 12. Even the prostitutes at Willie's love Josie and take care of her as best they can. She needs all their help, as her mother is tangled up with gangsters and the murder of a rich gentleman from Tennessee. Josie is involved in this murder also, but only because he visits the bookshop and buys books from her the day he dies. There's so much more to the story than that, but I can't give anymore away!
I think Ruta Sepetys has a wonderful writing gift. The characters are well drawn, Josie's world is easy to picture, and even though you want her path to be easy, it's not. And that's the way life is--not always wonderful; full of obstacles, and sometimes lots of pain and disappointment. It's also full of caring people, love, and hope. It's about looking for your path, and taking those steps even when it's tough and looks like you won't make it. That's Josie's life. You will quickly become absorbed in her story, and won't put this book down until the very last page.
Rating: 9/10 I love Ruta Sepetys. I love New Orleans. I love this story.
Available in hardcover, and e-book.