Despite (or maybe because of?) having the worst mother, 17-year-old Josie Moraine is kind of perfect: academically high achieving, well-read, solid worker at two jobs, well-mannered, strategic thinking, open-minded in bigoted times, and pleasant or pleasant-looking enough to have two potential suitors. Her shabby clothes and French Quarter daughter-of-a-prostitute don't do her any favors, but she does all right for herself.
The mom is not horrible because she's a prostitute; some of the workers at Willie's house are awesome, and some are thieving jerks. It just so happens that Willie's mother is in the latter category. She lies, steals, has a villainous boyfriend who wouldn't mind getting with Josie, but what's worst is that she's a betrayor.
Josie works in a bookstore (and lives above it thanks to the kindness of the store's owner) and there meets Charlotte, a Smith girl who encourages Josie to apply there. Smith becomes Josie's dream, and she goes to some unexpected steps to attain it.
While I read the book I was engaged, but after I finished it I felt like it was a little pat. I can't say whether I recommend it or not. Sorry!
Big props, though, for Sepetys mentioning the Smith College archivist by name and noting that "Writers of historical fiction would be lost without libraries and archives."