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A Reader of Fictions: Review: The Virgin Cure

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: The Virgin Cure

The Virgin Cure

Author: Ami McKay [Website|Facebook|Twitter|Pinterest]
Pages: 336
Publisher: Harper
Read: July 4-5, 2013
Source: Publisher for review via TLC Book Tours

Description from Goodreads:
From the author of the number one Canadian bestseller The Birth House comes the story of a young girl abandoned to the streets of post-Civil War New York City.

"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."

Set on the streets of Lower Manhattan in 1871, The Virgin Cure is the story of Moth, a girl abandoned by her father and raised by a mother telling fortunes to the city's desperate women. One summer night, twelve-year-old Moth is pulled from her bed and sold as a servant to a finely dressed woman. It is this betrayal suffered at the hands of her own mother that changes her life forever.

Knowing that her mother is so close while she is locked away in servitude, Moth bides her time until she can escape, only to find her old home deserted and her mother gone without a trace. Moth must struggle to survive alone in the murky world of the Bowery, a wild and lawless enclave filled with thieves, beggars, sideshow freaks, and prostitutes. She eventually meets Miss Everett, the proprietress of an "Infant School," a brothel that caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for "willing and clean" companions—desirable young virgins like Moth.

Moth also finds friendship with Dr. Sadie, a female physician struggling against the powerful forces of injustice, who teaches Moth to question and observe the world around her. The doctor hopes to protect Moth from falling prey to a terrible myth known as the "virgin cure"—the tragic belief that deflowering a "fresh maid" can cleanse the blood and heal men afflicted with syphilis—that has destroyed the lives of other Bowery girls.

Ignored by society, unprotected by the law, Moth dreams of independence. But there's a high price to pay for freedom, and no one knows that better than a girl from Chrystie Street.

First Sentence: "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."

Ami McKay's fiction came highly recommended, and I can certainly see why. The Virgin Cure was my first venture into her fiction but certainly shan't be the last. Slow-moving, contemplative and lush, The Virgin Cure is what I've come to expect from quality historical fiction.

Moth comes from the slums of New York City, Chrystie Street. Her mother works as a fortune teller, but they barely scrape buy, selling their possessions in the lean times. When need be, Moth's mother even trades favors to the landlord so he'll let her pay the rent late. In no way has Moth led a charmed life, so it's no surprise she dreams of escape, in the form of a beautiful house surrounded by gates. Perhaps sensing Moth's desire to fly for the light, her mother finds a placement for her in the house of a lady. Hard as life was with her mother, the lavishness of the upper classes hides damaged interiors, people just as screwed up as those without money. Where her mother withheld affection, Moth's new employer demands it, with pain as punishment for not meeting her every whim. Only twelve years old for most of the book, Moth faces the worst of what 19th century New York has to offer.

What's captivating about Moth is how incredibly young and old she feels all at once. At times, it's hard to believe she's only twelve, because she's so knowledgeable and strong. Other times her innocence and naivete, and the situations such a young girl is thrown into, about make you want to cry. Despite her tender years, she seems much more empowered and in charge of her own destiny than the average heroine. Even so, she's drawn like a moth to the light, but like Icarus it's warmth could be the death of her if she's not careful.

McKay's prose has a timeless quality, both capturing the historical era and not feeling heavy the way much historical fiction does. The Virgin Cure has an interesting format, interspersing little encyclopedia entries, letters, and newspaper articles throughout. Though I'm not entirely sure how I felt about their inclusion, it was esthetically pleasing at the very least, and it was nice having terms defined on the page, rather than having to flip to notes in the back or something like that.

Though I did quite enjoy The Virgin Cure, upon its conclusion I must admit I find myself a bit unsure what the point of it was. It may be that I simply wasn't paying enough attention at some crucial juncture to be able to pull the strings together, but I didn't get anything from it other than the joy of pretty writing and a compelling story, and I feel like there either was or should have been more. The ending came on in a rush, and the fates of the characters were so suddenly determined it has left me reeling.

All told, I deem my first McKay experience a success, and look forward to further of her works. I suspect readers who delighted in Memoirs of Geisha might appreciate The Virgin Cure, as it's a tale of a girl in similarly dire circumstances, only one with more gumption.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "We came from rear tenements and cellar floors, from poverty and pride. All sneak and steal, hush and flight, those of us who lived past thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old, those of us who managed to make any luck for ourselves at all—we became New York."

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Blogger Amy said...

Even though I'm not much of a historical reader, the more reviews I see for books that you have enjoyed make me want to pick up more of it. This one sounds really interesting and I really like the cover. It's too bad it seems like there's not really a point to it, but at least it was enjoyable to read.

July 15, 2013 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger Becky LeJeune said...

This was my first time reading McKay as well and I have to say I really loved it. Definitely lush, though I found it to be a pretty quick read overall (perhaps because I became so invested in Moth's tale). I also liked the author's essay about how the story came to be, which could explain why it felt incomplete. Originally I guess Dr. Sadie was to be the narrator but Moth sort of took over. I really enjoyed Sadie's thoughts and notes throughout and while I wanted more at the end, I was actually ok with the way the story played out as a whole.

July 15, 2013 at 11:06 AM  
Blogger Audra said...

I totally felt like I missed something when I finished reading this one!

July 15, 2013 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

Huh when reading the beginning of the review I didn't expect Moth (is that really her name? ew.) to be only 12 years old. It's great to see that the writing in this one wasn't as heavy as it is with most historicals (even though that is something that bothers me, not you) Too bad it felt a little aimless in the end.

July 15, 2013 at 1:43 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

I really enjoyed this one, but to me it felt like there was either not enough, or too much of Sadie. I liked those little clippings and notes throughout, and I was also glad they weren't in a notes section at the back.

I liked The Birth House a little more than The Virgin Cure, but she certainly has a talent for historical fiction.

July 15, 2013 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger AnimeJune said...

I reviewed this book some months ago and came to the same conclusion - it didn't really have a point.

Worse, I thought the ending was a *total* cop-out with no real consequences to the heroine's actions.

But McKay is an awesome writer - I heartily agree with the chorus demanding you read THE BIRTH HOUSE. It's exquisite, and one of my favourite novels ever.

July 16, 2013 at 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA years ago and I remember enjoying it, so I'd likely enjoy this book as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one for the tour!

July 20, 2013 at 5:50 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

I've been having pretty good luck with historical overall. The cover's interesting, no? It was enjoyable, but I wish it had had a bit more oomph. Haha.

July 20, 2013 at 11:28 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh, that's fantastic! I'm glad you got more absorbed in it than I did. That's neat about Dr. Sadie. That seems like it could have been a very different book, and I suspect the wrap up I felt was missing might have been in there.

July 20, 2013 at 11:28 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Glad to know it's not just me. It was still good, but I was sort of like "And.....?"

July 20, 2013 at 11:31 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yeah. So creepy! They pretended she was fifteen so she could work as a prostitute. Eeeeek.

July 20, 2013 at 11:34 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Someone above said that the book was originally meant to be about the doctor, so I suspect that's why. I think the doctor may have had the summation that brought everything together that seemed to be missing.

I've heard The Birth House is much better, so I hope I love it!

July 20, 2013 at 11:41 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh good. I know you're a big McKay fangirl for The Birth House, which is why I joined the tour actually. The ending just sort of came out of nowhere. What she learned was minimal and all her problems were solved so easily. I didn't buy it.

Well, I'll officially be reading it, because it's in my SHS now. The only question is when!

July 20, 2013 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Cool! I hope you enjoy it too.

July 20, 2013 at 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first saw this book released, I was kind of turned off my the cover image (yea yea, don't judge a book by it's cover), but I love the one you have posted! It actually appeals to me :)
- Krys

July 24, 2013 at 10:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Glad to hear this one was a fairly great read, as I just bought it! I read McKay's Birth House a few years ago when it first came out and I loved it! I definitely recommend :)

August 10, 2013 at 8:09 PM  

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