27 August 2012

Review: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Published: 26 June 2012 by HarperCollins

Pages: 336 (hardcover)

Genre/s: Historical Fiction

Source: Publisher for review

Check It Out: Goodreads ~ Amazon ~ Amazon UK (available from 27 September 2012) ~ The Book Depository

Synopsis (Goodreads)

"I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart." So begins The Virgin Cure, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in the year 1871. As a young child, Moth's father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from her forever. The summer she turned twelve, her mother sold her as a servant to a wealthy woman, with no intention of ever seeing her again.

These betrayals lead Moth to the wild, murky world of the Bowery, filled with house-thieves, pickpockets, beggars, sideshow freaks and prostitutes, where eventually she meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as "The Infant School." Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are "willing and clean," and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth.

Through the friendship of Dr. Sadie, a female physician, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her, where her new friends are falling prey to the myth of the "virgin cure"--that deflowering a "fresh maid" can heal the incurable and tainted. She knows the law will not protect her, that polite society ignores her, and still she dreams of answering to no one but herself. There's a high price for such independence, though, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street.


My Thoughts

I read Ami McKay's first book, The Birth House a couple of years ago and completely fell in love with her writing. Historical Fiction is a genre I've always enjoyed and when I find an author I love, I stick with them. And after recently finishing a book that was about another young woman being forced into prostitution, I was even more excited to read The Virgin Cure.

The story of Moth is moving and disturbing, but she is such a strong, determined character that there's no victim mentality here. For a girl who has endured so much in her short life, her strength really shines through in her story, despite her tender age and naivety.

Moth's journey through the seedier and crazier parts of New York and society, from the slums to servitude in a rich woman's house, to brothels and travelling carnivals is further enriched by the inclusion of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and various other tidbits of information that relate directly to Moth's story and also give more insight into the lifestyles and opinions of that age.

Dr. Sadie's inclusion was necessary, but wasn't quite in proportion to the rest of the book. I would liked to have seen either more of her story, or have it limited to the journal entries only - it just felt a little unbalanced in the scheme of the story. The ending also felt a little bit neat - not everything is resolved, but there was a lack of resistance on the part of one of the characters which didn't seem completely realistic, given their investment in Moth.

The Virgin Cure is written in the same compelling, lyrical voice of Ms. McKay's previous book and it completely evokes the feeling of being THERE in the story. If you love historical fiction, or unconventional heroines, I can definitely recommend The Virgin Cure.



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