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The Virgin Cure

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Overview

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 ...

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The Virgin Cure

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
McKay’s harsh yet hopeful second novel (after The Birth House) explores how women’s lives were shaped by their socioeconomic status in the bleak tenements of 1870s lower Manhattan. Moth is 12 years old and living with her mother, a “slum-house mystic” who loots fire-gutted properties. Struggling to make ends meet, Moth’s mother sells her daughter to Mrs. Wentworth as a maid, a situation in which Moth is regularly abused by her perverse guardian. Aided by a kind butler, Moth escapes to Miss Everett, who trains girls in social etiquette only to auction off their virginity. Miss Everett considers herself a cut above her competitors, as she does not sell her charges as “Virgin Cures,” whose efficacy hinges on the superstition that a man can be healed of disease if he sleeps with a virgo intacta. Moth soon becomes friends with Dr. Sadie (based on the author’s great-great grandmother), a female physician who entreats Moth to avoid life in a brothel, suggesting instead that she seek out adoption by a good family. Surrounded by women who fight to survive in vastly different ways, Moth must assess her desire to escape poverty in light of its daunting potential costs. Agent: Helen Heller. (June 26)
Kirkus Reviews
On the lawless streets of the 19th-century Lower East Side, a 12-year-old girl's choices seem limited to servitude or prostitution. McKay (The Birth House, 2006), who based this story in part on her family history, makes palpable the poverty and desperation that lead a gypsy fortuneteller to sell her daughter Moth as a maid to the abusive Mrs. Wentworth. Moth matter-of-factly accepts her fate, until Mrs. Wentworth's ill-treatment moves from blows to attacks with scissors. The kindhearted butler, Nestor, instructs her to take two pieces from Mrs. Wentworth's jewelry box: one for him, and one for Moth to sell to the fence whose address he provides. The money doesn't last long, her mother has vanished, and with her face covered with bruises and her hair hacked off, Moth can't get hired for even the lowest jobs. McKay supplements Moth's first-person narrative with marginal notes and newspaper reports provided by a female doctor (in fact, the author's great-great-grandmother) about everything from the plight of vagrant children to the "virgin cure," a ghastly belief that having sex with a virgin will cure a man of venereal disease. With all this background, it's entirely understandable that Moth walks into the brothel of Miss Everett with open eyes, knowing that she'll be fed, clothed and displayed until one of the customers pays a premium to deflower her. There's not much plot here, only Moth's increasing doubts as the fates of her peers at Miss Everett's reveal that a whore's life is only slightly better than starving, while Dr. Sadie tries to persuade her that she has other options. Strongly delineated characters and a vivid historical backdrop make up for the lack of narrative energy in this reflective novel, which quietly conveys fierce indignation about the savagery with which the rich prey on the poor in a world ruled by money. Very low-key, but rewarding for patient readers.
Booklist
“McKay captures the era’s atmosphere in such crisply rendered details. . . . Thought provoking and beautifully rendered.”
Associated Press Staff
“So well researched is this novel, so deep does it take readers into the dark and desperate life of Lower Manhattan that it is easy to believe it was written 150 years ago as a treatise decrying the fate that awaited so many impoverished young girls.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061140327
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.12 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Ami McKay's work has aired on various Canadian radio programs. Her documentary, Daughter of Family G, won an Excellence in Journalism Medallion at the 2003 Atlantic Journalism Awards. Originally from Indiana, she now lives with her family in a former birth house in Scots Bay, Nova Scotia.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 35 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(20)

4 Star

(11)

3 Star

(2)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(0)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 35 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A new kind of heroine

    Moth, an unusual and mystical-sounding name given her by an errant father, is one of the unfortunate born into poverty and misfortune, and yet she is...gifted. She is special.

    Moth is smart and adaptable and almost fearless. A twelve-year-old girl, she is forsaken by her mother, a local mystic and fortune-teller, but she determinedly finds her way, via a path to an "infant school". An infant school would be considered very upsetting and disturbing to any woman of this generation, but for a young girl on her own in the late 1800s of Manhattan, it could be her only saving grace. Some of these girls came to the "school" of their own accord, others were sold to them by poverty-stricken relatives.

    In "infant schools", young girls were taught all about how to charm a man, how to intrigue him and entice him, and hold his interest. How to drive up her own worth in his eyes, so that he would be willing to pay a large sum for her "innocence". Then her virginity would be sold for a pretty penny, and the girl could then opt to leave the school to fend for herself, or to become a professional prostitute.

    I loved this story, and I found author Ami McKay's writing to be very effective and moving. The book also has little tidbits and notes in the margins that give you a glimpse into the era and at times explain a little about a topic in the story. One of things you learn from one of these tips is the disturbing reality that in 1871 "under common law, the age of consent was ten years of age. (In Delaware it was seven)" How's that for shocking?

    The one complaint that I have is that sometimes it was hard to discern the transition from the story to a news article or a "diary entry" or letter by the doctor. Perhaps they could have used different typeface and margins and such to make it easier to indicate the switch?

    My final word: At times shocking and disturbing, but overall a very moving and satisfying read, I highly recommend this book. This story isn't for the faint of heart, but this rare gem is perfect for someone looking for a new kind of heroine-- a heroine perhaps not as delicate and fancy as one of those frilly butterflies, but a Moth gritty and spunky enough to knock the dust off her wings and take flight once again...

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2013

    The content of the book is very distressing. Author has done he

    The content of the book is very distressing. Author has done her legwork and history gathering; however, I find it unnecessary to go into such graphic details regarding sexual deviancy.. News coverage daily gives us far too many glimpses into the elements of our society perpetrating gross acts as depicted in this book. We are bombarded by stories of the degradation of our civilization. I prefer not to waste my precious time reading a book which compounds the egregious conduct of these societal pariahs. I prefer to be entertained, educated or amused in my readings.
    I find no satisfaction in reading of the disparity and helplessness of the poor and downtrodden in society. Unfortunately, we see too much of it in our modern-day examples of the widening gap between rich and poor....though we as a people and as a government shy away or deliberately deny its being.

    5 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2012

    Another good one

    As a fan of The Birth House, I bought this one and was impressed as well. A history lesson and one a woman should read to see just how far we have come.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2012

    Highly Recommended and thought provoking.

    I had recently read The Birth House by this author and was looking for more of the same. The Virgin Cure did not disappoint. The story was disturbing but I have no doubt a fairly accurate description of the life options of young girls during this time period. My heart went out to Moth and all her trials and rejoiced as she found her way out of her misery. I would highly recommend this story to everyone.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2013

    This is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you rea

    This is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you read the final page. I highly recommend it. This would be a great pick for a book club.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2013

    Great book!

    I thought this was a great book. Sad and disturbing but makes you appreciate life and what you have so much more.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    Loved it!!

    Great read. Recommended

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2013

    Why Virgin Cure?

    This book is very interesting. Ami writes well and her stories are very well researched. HOWEVER, I read and read wondering when the story of Moth would tie in with the title. In the first part of her story the Cure was mentioned. Then, after three-quarters there is the situation with Alice and the Cure but it is a rather minor story within a story. I give the author that that situation may have a bearing on Moth's decision but that is only a guess. I will now re-read the book, not expecting the Cure being what the book was about.
    I am glad I read this book and it would have rated 5 stars if the title and the story jived.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 9, 2012

    Best read I've found in a long time! Am reading The Birth House

    Best read I've found in a long time! Am reading The Birth House right away. Ami McKay will be a great author to follow!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2012

    Lit Chick

    I'm enjoying this book, and I recommend it. Just not sure why the B&N overview is different than the actual story. Does anyone know why????

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2014

    Very interesting

    Well written. Interesting story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2014

    Great read

    Loved it wellr esearched read it in one nigh a true page turner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2014

    Fascinating

    I was a huge fan of Ami McKay's first book, The Birth House, so I was very excited when this sophomore effort came out. I wasn't disappointed. This book was a fascintaing piece of historical fiction, telling the tale of a street girl named Moth and the harrowing experiences she has in late nineteenth century New York. I loved this book and recommend it to everyone, particularly if you were a fan of McKay's earlier work and if you enjoy historical fiction. The only thing that prevented me from giving it five stars were the frequent glitches which caused it to skip over pages or repeat pages. Very irritating! Please fix this, Nook tech squad!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    Top five favorite books. I feel in love with Ami McKay's books.

    Top five favorite books. I feel in love with Ami McKay's books. I read 'The Birth House' first and loved that book so I decided to read 'The Virgin Cure'. I was not let down. I hope to read more of her works! 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    Followkit

    Ran off to collect them

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2013

    Brightsky

    Okay, hmm...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2013

    Disturbing but good book

    This book was disturbing in some parts, but I can imagine this is how things used to be. I enjoy reading books about people who overcome great odds, and this book certainly delivers. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2013

    Easy read

    Loved story

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2013

    ~Crossing Winds~ chaper 4~ by Krazy aka skystar

    Her eyes blinked open, light flushing in. The fresh mornig scent kicked in er morning energy. She groaned in discomfort, something prickly poking her. She rolled over, nothing. She twisted her head around, and gasped. Several fluffy, cloudy white frills started to grow on her back. A strange facination and a tinge of terror triggered a shriek. Her mithers head shot up as ast as light reflecting from a puddle. In a hurricane of wingbeats her mother sat by her side. She gasped in surprise. "SHAKRA! Wake up! Shes growing feathers! And I have the perfect name!" She squealed like a mentally unbalanced squirrel. Shakras eyes blinked groggily. "Wha..?" His gaze brightens in excitement once he registered what his energetic mate had twittered to him. "Oh!" He exclaimed, and rushed over. He made an affectionate chirrup noise. She smiled. Her mother rolle her eyes where her mate or her chick couldnt see. "Ahem. Shakra! We should name her Sierra." He gave er a doubtful glance. "I think her name should be Skylar." She made a grumpy face and glided away. Her father switched is agitated face into a gentler gaze and turned to his precious kin. She managed a sentence. "Does mama love me?" She squaked sorrowfully. "Well..." her fater looked away. "I can't say."

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 3, 2013

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings  Centering arou

    Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings

     Centering around a young girl who under horrible circumstances is abandoned and must find her own way in New York City at the age of 12.  As there were only a few options for girls and as I learned some horrible ways for girls to keep a roof over their heads, I was astonished at the details of these girls lives that lived through these years in New York City.  I am certain that this wasn't just happening at this moment in time or just in this town, so I think this book has a sense of relevancy even at this time.  

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