Review Time: The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

This review has the distinct honour of being the first book review I have written, at least for blogging purposes. I chose The Virgin Cure, written by Ami Mckay and published by Random House Canada, for my first review because it was probably my most anticipated read of 2011 and it did not disappoint. 
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When I say I was anticipating this book, I mean I was really, really anticipating this book. I read McKay’s previous novel The Birth House and found that it was a beautifully written, rich story with a very evocative setting. I knew that I shouldn’t get my hopes up too much for The Virgin Cure and risk being disappointed, but it is hard for me not to get excited about things (especially literary things). I was lucky though, because The Virgin Cure was everything I had hoped it would be and more, in fact I would say I enjoyed it even more than I did The Birth House. Maybe. They are both so great, that I would now name Mckay amongst my favourite authors. 
The story is set in 1871 Manhattan and tells the story of twelve-year old Moth, a girl from the slums of Chrystie Street whose father abandoned her and her mother when Moth was very young. Unfortunately for Moth, her mother abandons her as well and she is sold to a rich household where she becomes a servant to the wealthy lady of the house. Again, things don’t pan out so well for poor Moth and she suffers terrible abuses at the hand of her new employer and flees the mansion for a life on the streets. It is this choice that lands Moth at Miss Everett’s “Infant School” where she becomes a prostitute-in-training, waiting for her virginity to be auctioned off by Miss Everett to the highest bidder. During her training Moth gets to know the other young “students” and full-time professional prostitutes at Miss Everett’s, as well as a coulourful collection of freaks and misfits working at nearby Dink’s Museum. She also meets Dr. Sadie (a character based on McKay’s own relative), a female physician from a wealthy family who services the girls working for Miss Everett. Despite all the hardships and seemingly impossible choices that Moth must face, she is resilient, strong and surprisingly innocent, given the life she has been forced to live.
McKay’s writing style lends itself to both beauty and readability, she manages to paint a detailed and gorgeous picture while still keeping her writing accessible to a varied readership. I was also impressed with her ability to tackle uncomfortable subject matter in an unapologetic and descriptive fashion without sacrificing the flow of the story. While I was certainly saddened, upset and even disgusted by some of the events that took place, I never felt like I was torn out of the story because of them- rather I was pulled in deeper and formed a stronger connection to Moth and the other characters. The historical detail in the novel was impressive and McKay’s use of Dr. Sadie’s “notes” in the margins of the pages, a detailed map of Moth’s Manhattan and excerpts from newspaper clippings to support the narrative added a lovely touch and sense of realism to the book. While it is of course fiction, it wasn’t hard to imagine that many young girls and women found themselves in the horrible circumstances endured by Moth and others during this particular time period. The title itself refers to the popular myth at the time that a man afflicted by Syphilis could rid himself of the deadly disease by having sex with a “clean” and virginal girl, a myth that would obviously be extremely dangerous to a girl in Moth’s vulnerable position.
I would really recommend this book to anyone with a love of Historical Fiction, it is really evocative of the time and place and Moth's story is so captivating. 


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