- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Harper (June 26, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 0061140325
- Source: Publisher
“The most valuable thing a girl possessed was hidden between her legs, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder. It was never a question of yes or no. It was simply a matter of which man would have you first.”
In 1871 Manhattan, Moth is a young girl born into squalor and suffering. Her father abandoned her and her mother, a fortune teller, and the two now get by on her mother’s practice of telling fortunes to desperate women.
One night, when Moth is just twelve years old, she awakens to find her mother has sold her as a ladies maid to Mrs. Wentworth. The time spent at Mrs. Wentworth is short, full of immense abuse and ridicule. She is “saved” by butler, who returns her to her home in return for a small act of thievery. However, when she returns home to finds her mother is no longer there, their home is inhabited by other people. Just when Moth thinks she has survived the worst, she finds herself without a home and is forced to learn how to survive life living on the street, surviving the only way she knows how.
Soon she meets Miss Emma Everett, a madame who runs a brothel specializing in “unique” tastes. She supplies young virgins to wealthy older men, for it is assumed that deflowering a virgin provides a cure, a virgin cure, to rid the men of “French Pox” (syphilis.) Providing this cure was a curse for the young girls. Once they lose their virginity, they are no longer marrying material and are doomed to a life of prostitution. Moth is forced to make a difficult decision: is a life of luxury living in Miss Everett’s home worth the consequences? Her life outside Miss Everett’s home would certainly be short, for it was nearly impossible for a young girl to survive on the streets for fear of being attacked, raped, and murdered.
Shortly after her arrival Moth meets Dr. Sadie, a physician who examines and treats prostitutes in Manhattan while also trying to lead them to a better life. It is Dr. Sadie who allows Moth to realize she has more options than she assumes, that she is worth more than her current living suggestions suggest.
The Virgin Cure is an incredibly original piece of historical fiction focused on telling the story of a young forgotten girl in early 1800s New York City. McKay’s prose is incredibly addictive, one finds themselves lost in the story of young Moth, rooting for her to rise above the life that has been dealt to her. Interspersed in the novel is short excerpts from magazines and newspapers and other sources, allowing the reader to gain background information on the social norms, the history, and the culture surrounding young Moth.
The characters of Moth and Dr. Sadie were the most valuable and sympathetic. Moth is forced at a very young age what it takes to survive. It isn’t until she meets Dr. Sadie that she realizes that she has other options, has potential to have a real life. Dr. Sadie, too, is suffering, stuck in a world full of social injustice that makes it difficult for women to survive. Despite this being a difficult book to read, due to the subject matter alone, I felt myself returning to it repeatedly. I couldn’t get enough of young Moth and the angel she found in Dr. Sadie.
Without a doubt, this novel is certain to make my favorites list for the year. A deeply satisfying and rewarding read, this book will continue to resonate within me for some time. Highly, highly recommended.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the other stops along the tour.
About the author:
Ami McKay is the author of the #1 Canadian bestseller The Birth House, the winner of three Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) Libris Awards and a nominee for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her work has aired on various Canadian radio programs, and her documentary, Daughter of Family G, won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards. She is also active with UNICEF and other organizations. Originally from Indiana, she now lives with her husband and two sons in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia.