New Orleans, as Ruta Sepetys characterizes it in Out of the Easy, is aligned with other American towns and cities in 1950, placing limitations on women, and classifying people in terms of race and economic status. It is difficult, if not impossible to break down those barriers, yet narrator Jo Morraine tries.
A gift of antique opera glasses led Ruta Sepetys to New Orleans, and a jeweler who'd been poisoned. Next, she stumbled upon a biography of a New Orleans madam named Norma Wallace, and Sepetys was on her way to "research rapture," as she calls it. She got lost in the details. These details ground the novel, and the author's themes stretch across decades. As the daughter of a prostitute, Jo believes she has few options. New Orleans is an economically striated world into which it's difficult to break. Still, a bookseller/mystery writer offers Jo a job and a place to stay.
While working the cash register in the bookstore, Jo meets a Smith student. She becomes determined to apply to Smith College and to escape a world in which she feels imprisoned. The life Jo was born into is not easy; but it also won't be easy to break away.