It is very clear that the committee that worked on these brackets were spot on in their selection of the best books of 2013. Like others before me, I enter this challenge without a clear idea of which of the books is my favorite. Both are books that were on my radar but I hadn’t yet read so I was able to go into this challenge without any preconceived notions.
I had wanted to read Out of the Easy when it came out but when I read the first line of the novel (My mother’s a prostitute.) I knew that I wouldn’t be able to booktalk this novel to the middle schools and that put it on my “to read when I’m not reading for booklists” pile. I’m really glad that this challenge forced this book into my hands. This story takes place in 1950’s New Orleans where 17-year-old Josie Moraine, the daughter of a prostitute, is trying to remove herself from the life that her mom has created. She moved out of her mom’s “house” at 12 and got her own apartment. She works in a bookstore and cleans the Madame’s house for a living. She has aspirations of college and becoming something more than just a girl from the Quarter. Unfortunately, her past and her mother’s bad decisions keep pulling her down. She has to decide if she is going to keep fighting to pull herself up and out. Part Historical Fiction, part Mystery, part romance – this is a very satisfying read. Ruta Sepetys is a wonderful writer and her second novel doesn’t disappoint.
Reality Boy is another book that I really wanted to read but was put on the “later” pile. Gerald “The Crapper” Faust is so filled with anger, it overwhelms him. He is in anger management counseling and fights the need to fight every day. All of the anger stems from when he was five and his parents put his family on a reality television “Super Nanny” like show. To show his disgust for the whole situation, Gerald did what his five-year-old self thought would best get his point across – he pooped on the dining room table. It got such a reaction that he continued to do it to show his displeasure. His five-year-old self never would have imagined that it would be something that he would have to carry around with him forever. He really didn’t think that he would have to face life alone without a his family backing him up. Unfortunately, his mom is distant (at best), his dad is a workaholic, his sister Lisi moved to Scotland and Tasha is so self-consumed that she only makes everything worse. This is a really powerful novel and makes you look at the world of reality TV in a totally different light. As you read it, you are angry for Gerald so it is no surprise that he is so mad himself. As the reader, hope that he can move beyond “The Crapper” and find a support system. That is exactly what a great book is supposed to do; give you a protagonist that you can support and cheer on and hope that they will come out ahead in the end.
At first it might seem difficult to compare these two books but at their heart is the same basic concept – teens who are dealing with the really difficult lives as a result of poor decisions made by their parents. The guidance they receive comes outside sources and they are (understandably) hesitant to accept it on any terms but their own. Because they’ve both been fighting their whole lives, they are kind of selfish because there has never been anyone else to look out for them. Both Gerald and Josie find love and support from people outside their family and ultimately it is those people who help them find their true selves and help to propel them forward.
I think I have to give this challenge to Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Only because there were a couple things in Reality Boy that seemed a little incongruous (particularly he talked a lot about made up postal abbreviations and zip codes that didn’t really flow with the rest of the story). Nothing that would keep me from reading or recommending the book – just that I had to choose a winner and that was the only nitpicky thing I can come up with. I highly recommend that you read both books.
Winner: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys