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The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure

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One of our Great Reads You May Have Missed in 2012.

A beguiling and disturbing story set in 1871 New York where poverty and decadence are unhappy, but necessary bedfellows. Moth, the 12 year old central character, is sold into prostitution by an uncaring mother and as a virgin she holds the key to a mythical cure for all manner of sexually transmitted diseases. The lush descriptions by the author bring late 19C seedy New York to vivid life and make this an alluring read.

October 2012 Book of the Month.

A few Lovereading members have been lucky enough to get to read this novel ahead of publication. Scroll down to see what they think...

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The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

'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.' So begins THE VIRGIN CURE, a novel set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in 1871. 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. Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions, 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' to 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...


In July 2012 Lovereading asked members and browsers whether they would like to review this title ahead of publication. A few lucky readers were selected to do so and below you can find out what they thought:

'Written in the first person, this is an absorbing novel. It's difficult to write of such matters without sermonising, without making them overly squalid in description, even with a note of prurience. Ami McKay manages all this and more. This is a rich tale of a young girl coping and seeking and one that is a delight to read.' Paul Ward - Click here to read the full review.

'Her focus on the rights (or lack there of) of women/girls at this time is illuminating, shocking and ultimately redemptive.' Rachel Bridgeman - Click here to read the full review.

'The Virgin Cure is a captivating novel with several plot twists and a surprise ending. McKay has expertly crafted a cast of moving and convincing characters with vivid descriptions of the ghettoes in Manhattan’s lower east side. Ami McKay does not disappoint and if we have to wait too long for her next book I will simply have to re-read “The Virgin Cure” and enjoy it again.' Terri Wright - Click here to read the full review.

'Powerful and gripping are not adequate words to describe the emotions that arise from reading this book. The reader becomes connected to Moth who is a strong, jaded yet naive little girl.' Josephine Sherwood - Click here to read the full review.

'I enjoyed the novel and the style in which it was presented with little annotations in the margins from newspaper, advertisements relevant to the text. The story might make for uncomfortable reading but was an insight to the social history of a metropolis like New York and many other cities at the time.' Geraldine Barnes - Click here to read the full review.

'The story of Moth, a girl growing up in the Manhattan slums of the 1870s is a compelling combination of story, history and romance...The twists and turns of Moth’s battles for independence provide a vivid portrait of the underside of the American dream.' Cath Humphris - Click here to read the full review.

'There is something strangely repellent about the debauched world of the nineteenth century prostitute, and yet Moth’s delicate simplicity, steals right into your heart, and flutters with spirited wonder through the worst of her experiences. Overall, The Virgin Cure is an emotional and thought provoking read, and one that will remain with me for a very long time.' Josie Barton - Click Here to read the full review.

'From the start I loved this book. The subject matter of child prostitution is grim and there are some startling scenes in the book. However, this is a fascinating book, giving the reader a glimpse into the past.' J B Johnston - Click Here to read the full review.

'This is a great book - I really loved it even though it wasn't my usual type of book. I cared about Moth - she is likeable and tough and would thoroughly recommend this if you like a good read!' Sally Doel - Click Here to read the full review.

'McKay has delivered a powerful, provocative and magical novel and I absolutely loved it.' Francesca Ashurst - Click Here to read the full review.

'The Virgin Cure by Ami Mckay is historical fiction at its finest. It takes place in NY in 1871. We are introduced to Moth, a young girl who is about to he sold into servitude. Moth is unforgettable and the book is told in her voice. We follow her as she exposed to the seedy side and people who inhabit this dark side of life. She becomes a "fresh Maid" and men of a certain type will pay dearly for her. The life this young girl leads will sweep you away I could not put this book down and cannot stop thinking about Moth. I recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful writing and strong heroines.' Rhonda Lomazow

'For the most part, the story is fast paced and keeps the reader of the edge of their seat, wanting to know how Moth will overcome such tragic conditions. The characters are believable, and you really do empathise with Moth as she is a worthy heroine.' Becca Golby - Click here to read the full review.

'I particularly enjoyed the author’s side notes, poems and old newspaper articles, which give the reader a feel for what it was actually like to live in society at that time and add historical interest to the novel. Although the story is at times harrowing I take my hat off to Ms Mckay for delivering an ultimately uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it so much that I will seek out Ami McKay first novel, the Birth House, and will be recommending The Virgin Cure to all my friends.' Ruth Richards - Click here to read the full review.

'The story is authentically written and held my interest, but I was disappointed that, following the eventual loss of Moth’s maidenhood, her fate and her future were wrapped up within just eighteen pages, as though the author didn’t want to take her story further in any depth.' - Lindsey Whittle - Click here to read the full review.

About the Author

Ami McKay

Ami McKay's debut novel, THE BIRTH HOUSE, was a No.1 bestseller in Canada, winner of three CBA LIBRIS AWARDS, nominated for the INTERNATIONAL IMPAC DUBLIN LITERARY AWARD, and a book club favourite around the world. Born and raised in Indiana, Ami now lives in Nova Scotia.

Author photo © Ian McKay

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Book Info

Publication date

27th September 2012


Ami McKay

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Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) an imprint of Orion Publishing Co


384 pages


Historical Fiction
Books of the Month
Literary Fiction
Reading Groups
eBook Favourites

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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