The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The Virgin Cure
Every time Mrs. Wentworth came at me, I thought of Mama. [...] But Mama could never know. I was tied to Mrs. Wentworth now. The wage they had agreed upon was meant to keep Mama alive. If I ran away, I feared Mrs. Wentworth would come after Mama. She'd be left with nothing - no clothes to wear, no place to sleep, no food in her belly. My bruises were a small price to pay.

Twelve-year old Moth was born into the poorest of the slums in 1870s New York, to a fortune-telling mother and a father who abandoned them when she was three. Named Moth by her father because a tree told him to do so, Moth was sold into servitude by her mother in exchange for a fortune. Despite her attempts to blend into the new household, she ends up detesting the lady of the house - so much that she was willing to risk thieving to escape. And then begins a new life for Moth - at the infant school, where virgin girls are taught how to charm and seduce a man until eventually their virginity is sold. On the plus side, Moth gets food, security and a place to sleep - things that she didn't have easy access to previously. It is in this place that Moth learns her way around and finds out the tremendous price to pay for her independence.

From the time I started reading book reviews, one book had always stood out as a solid favorite among many readers - Ami McKay's The Birth House. Unfortunately I still haven't read it, but I can finally say that I understand what everyone is talking about. McKay's second book, The Virgin Cure is purely magnificent. I can guess that this one is definitely going to have a place in my top 5 for this year. Despite reading and feeling pulled towards a lot of literary fiction books, I usually find something to complain about in each book - mostly about the characters or their actions. Even though there is one aspect of The Virgin Cure that did bug me, that was more a matter of stylistic choice. Everything else about this book scored huge brownie points with me.

Ami McKay
Moth was an immensely likable character. She had her faults, she made mistakes occasionally, but she was just another innocent girl who wanted to make a decent life in this world and not be like one of those girls who ended up dead for no fault of theirs. At 12, she knew enough of the ways of her world to understand that sex can be a powerful bargaining tool. It can buy her a stale loaf of bread or some extra milk. She was still a virgin at that point, but she knew how to show a little extra skin on her neck or legs to woo a shopkeeper. Even when her mother sold her off to a tyrant lady to be a maid, Moth didn't want to escape, lest the lady go after her mother in revenge. But when the torture becomes too unbearable for this persevering girl, she is willing to consider anything to get out of this life.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Both had the same concept of training virgin girls to hold a man's attention and seduce him, until eventually her virginity is sold, after which she can do whatever she wished with her life. The men who participated in these customs were usually well-off and married. Reading about these infant schools led to conflicting reactions in me. On the one hand, these girls were being exploited. But on the other, they were enjoying a freedom they have never known and would probably never know had they remained in the slum dwellings they were born in.

The one thing that bugged me was the organization of the extra notes in the book. Throughout the book, there are several notes and explanations added to emphasize the context or give more meaning to the setting or to explain away some quirky actions as normal for those times. Sometimes I read these notes before reaching the relevant passages in the narration and that would throw me around a bit while I tried to place them. I guess something like footnotes would have been great here, but still this is just a minor issue, more a personal preference.

In the end, I found this book immensely satisfying and unputdownable! I usually like to read literary fiction in sessions, but this one was a little hard to ignore. I also don't usually read much historical fiction, but New York in the 1870s turned out to be very intriguing and tremendously different from the New York I see now. I did feel that the language of the book was more modern than what suited the times, that sometimes I had to remind myself that this was happening more than a century ago. I'm not sure how New Yorkers talked then, but I doubt it is the same English that we use now. I'm now looking forward to reading McKay's debut book.


I received this book for free for review from the publisher via TLC Book Tours.


24 comments:

Vasilly said...

I haven't read this yet but it's on my shelves. Your great review makes me want to pick it up now! Moth sounds like a character who's too good to pass up.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

The more I read about this, the more I want to read it. It sounds excellent!

Jules0773 said...

I read The Birth House a couple weeks ago and I could not put it down even though my reading time is rare with my 2 year old always wanting to play with me these days!  I'm really looking forward to read The Virgin Cure and even much more now that I've read your comment!!!

Nadia said...

Wow! This book sounds great! I definitely plan on reading it! Great post!

Tina Reed said...

Haven't heard about this one before but "purely magnificent" works for me!

Cat said...

I agree. Fantastic reading and excellent historical fiction. I've just finished it and loved it. I haven't read The Birth House either so something to look forward to.

softdrink said...

This sounds fabulous. Even if her parents sound like total losers.

Jenny said...

This sounds so fantastic!! I've heard good things about The Birth House too and have a copy to read. I might start with this though. The thing about the rule of speech sometimes throws me off too though... I'll forget that it's supposed to be so far in the past or I'll spend time trying to decide of people really talked like that then lol.

Stephanie said...

I have heard great things about this author and I liked her other book well enough so I am excited to read this one!

trish said...

I agree about The Birth House, which I still intend to read! I love that this book will be in your top 5 for the year! 

Thanks for being on the tour! 

zibilee said...

The Virgin Cure is my next read, and I am in the process of reading The Birth House at the moment, so I know exactly what you mean about McKay's style and ability to draw you in. I can't wait to get to this one and see how it compares to the one I am reading right now. McKay has a special talent, that is for sure. Excellent and very enlightening review today!

Givingreadingachance said...

Another author to look out for, I guess! Thanks for the great review.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you like this book as much as I did! 

Athira / Aths said...

It is fabulous! I hope you like it! 

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! I hope you enjoy this book!

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! Hope you like it!

Athira / Aths said...

So glad that you loved it! I can't wait to dive into Birth House!

Athira / Aths said...

Exactly my thoughts!

Athira / Aths said...

How awesome that you are getting to read both books! I can't wait to read your thoughts on Birth House and Virgin Cure!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks for having me on the tour! I hope you get to read Birth House!

Athira / Aths said...

You're welcome! Definitely an author to watch out for! 

Athira / Aths said...

Yay! I hope you like this one too! 

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you read one or both of her books! I can't wait to hear what you think! You're right about the rule of speech - sometimes it can be very confusing and distracting. 

Athira / Aths said...

So glad that you loved Birth House! I hope you enjoy Virgin Cure as well!!