The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Posted by Caitie F on June 24, 2012
Summary from goodreads:
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.
Have you ever read a book and instantly felt that it could be a hit? That people could put down their Pattersons and their Clancys, try someone new and enjoy every moment of it? This book made me feel that way. I know it will never be as big as those suspense authors, but I hope a lot of people read and love this book as much as I did.
I wanted to give Moth a hug for the entire book. In her first eleven years of life, no one ever gave her a chance. Her life was decided since she was born: she would be a burden, then she would be sold into servitude. It didn’t matter that she was kind and smart. Or that she was brave and caring. All that mattered was where she started.
The person who she is sold to is abusive and terrifying and Moth escapes and is on the streets with no prospects. While begging, Mae, a near-whore, sees potential in Moth and brings her to the house where her madame trains young women. Suddenly, all of Moth’s hopes seem to be answered. She is sleeping on a feathered bed, wears beautiful dresses and feels like she matters.
Watching the transformation was difficult. While it was great seeing her transform and get what she wants, the reader knows the dangers of what she is doing. But the transformation makes Moth stronger and gives her a confidence she would have never known. Without being a near-whore, she could never have been successful if that makes any sense.
Thankfully, there are good people even in this seedy world who want to help, even if the girls themselves cannot see it for some time, particularly a female doctor.
This is such a beautiful piece of historical fiction. If you read the author’s note at the end, you will see Sadie (the awesome doctor) is based on the author’s great-grandmother and some of the events and characters are based on people she knew. That even some of it is true makes it even more stunning. It even has a format that adds to the story and setting. Throughout, there are notes from the doctor about things Moth has said and there are “newspaper articles” showing how the establishment was commenting what was going on in Moth’s world.
This was a fantastic book that I hope you go out and get.