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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Slums of New York City, 1871
To say that this is an absorbing novel about public health in New York City at the end of the 19th Century makes The Virgin Cure sound boring, which it most definitely is not. It is the story of Moth, a 12-year old girl from the slums who struggles to make her way in a city that cares little for the poor and less for the females among them.

Moth is sold by her...
Published on May 2, 2012 by B. McEwan

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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surviving the streets of 19th century New York City.
Moth is a 12-year old girl who lives with her mother in a New York tenement. Mama is a self-proclaimed fortune teller and they scrape by on whatever she can collect from reading the futures of the people who come to their door. Her ultimate goal is to get Moth placed in an upscale home as a maid so that she can make money for their keep. That day eventually comes, and...
Published on May 9, 2012 by Julie Lovisa


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63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Slums of New York City, 1871, May 2, 2012
This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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To say that this is an absorbing novel about public health in New York City at the end of the 19th Century makes The Virgin Cure sound boring, which it most definitely is not. It is the story of Moth, a 12-year old girl from the slums who struggles to make her way in a city that cares little for the poor and less for the females among them.

Moth is sold by her mother as a ladies maid to a wealthy woman who abuses her. She flees and takes up a life of street thieving but finds she's not much good at it. Along comes Mae, an "almost whore" who introduces Moth to the world of Miss Everett, a madam who specializes in training young virgins to take their places as mistresses of New York's rich and powerful men. Through the brothel, Moth meets Dr. Sadie, one of the few female physicians in New York (or anywhere else). Dr. Sadie is employed to care for the girls in Miss Everett's "infant school" (yes, there really were such businesses) and ensure that they are "clean" for their ultimate male 'sponsors.'

Through the lens of Moth, readers get a view of life and death in a metropolis that is emerging as a world city. We visit the entertainment parlors and side show circuses of the Bowery, see 'how the other half lives' in the tenements of the lower east side, peek into beer gardens and oyster bars, tour homes of the wealthy, eavesdrop on the downstairs help and witness street life at its best and worst. Overall, The Virgin Cure is a slice of social history wrapped up in an engaging story whose focus is serious indeed.

One thing that amazed me about this novel is the myth for which it is named, the 'virgin cure.' This refers to the idea that a man could cure himself of syphilis by having intercourse with a virgin. That is shocking in itself, but the thing that took my breath away is that this myth remains prevalent today in some parts of the world where HIV is rampant. Many public health workers, particularly in the developing world, decry the spread of HIV to young girls by men who have seduced them in hopes of avoiding full-blown AIDS. If only truth were as durable as this great lie.

The Bottom Line: The Virgin Cure is historical fiction at its best. And author Ami McKay, whose great, great grandmother is the model for Dr. Sadie, gets bonus points for her evocative descriptions of my favorite city.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Virgin Cure, June 3, 2012
This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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Moth's father left her, but not before naming her. He claimed to have asked the ancient pear tree for a name, and "Moth" was what the tree whispered back. After he left, Moth and her mother were always starving, until Moth's mother sold her into servitude. The woman Moth served was very abusive. With shorn hair, a multitude of bruises, and black eyes, Moth finally escaped. Upon returning to her mother, she discovered that she was nowhere to be found. Moth was left to be a beggar on the streets, and she quickly learned the `tricks of the trade'. One day, upon meeting Miss Everett, she joined a brothel. It was better than sleeping in the barrel that she had on the roof of a building. However, there was a strong belief in the `virgin cure' during the late 1800's. It was believed by many that sexual relations with a virgin would cure syphilis, a disease that ran rampant in the city at this time.

Moth narrates this story, and it is primarily about her. However, Dr. Sadie, a female physician, adds her own commentary in the margins, informing the reader about aspects of the time.

This is a very interesting novel, not only for its intriguing plot, but also for its historical accuracy. This story deals with a remarkable epoch, but it was also a time when there were many serious problems. It is estimated that there were over 30,000 children who lived on the streets in New York City. And Moth was one of them.

Although this is a work of historical fiction, it is very convincing. The characters are well developed, and the settings give us a glimpse into 19th century New York City. It is also a story of hope in troubled times. I loved this book!
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Surviving the streets of 19th century New York City., May 9, 2012
This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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Moth is a 12-year old girl who lives with her mother in a New York tenement. Mama is a self-proclaimed fortune teller and they scrape by on whatever she can collect from reading the futures of the people who come to their door. Her ultimate goal is to get Moth placed in an upscale home as a maid so that she can make money for their keep. That day eventually comes, and Moth is sold by her mother to live as a personal maid to Mrs. Wentworth, a wealthy matron living in a large and comfortable home. While this seems as though it would be a step up in her life, Mrs. Wentworth turns out to be an unpredictable and half-mad woman who abuses Moth at will.

With the help of the butler, Moth runs away and discovers that her mother has moved without notice. Not knowing where to go, she accepts the invitation of a beautiful, well-dressed girl to be introduced to Miss Everett, who unbeknownst to Moth, is the proprietress of a discreet brothel that caters to wealthy men looking for virgins. Seduced by the lavish lifestyle of Miss Everett's girls, she goes into training for the day she will be expected to be kept by a powerful man. She makes several friends, including the house physician, Dr. Sadie, who takes a special liking to Moth and tries to protect her and get her out of the brothel. She declines her help and procures a side job at an illusion show where she is introduced to Mr. Wentworth, whom she recognizes from a large portrait that hung on the Wentworth home's wall. He is immediately attracted to her and begins the ritual that will not only make him Moth's first client, but allow her to get revenge on the cruel Mrs. Wentworth.

This is a dark story, told from the underbelly of 19th century New York City and doesn't skimp on the horrors and rough life of the thousands of orphans who lived there during that time. While the book is titled "The Virgin Cure," only a small part of the story is dedicated to that particular myth of deflowering a virgin to cure syphilis and it doesn't directly involve Moth at all. This is the heartbreaking story of a forgotten child who is left to fend for herself in the streets of New York City and succumbs to the darkness of it through necessity. It is sprinkled through with sidebars that offer tidbits of factual information about parts of the book, but I didn't think they lent anything to the story and were actually rather distracting as I read. The author based it on information she learned about her great-great grandmother, who was a physician. I liked it, especially the second half; didn't love it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book for a book club discussion., June 7, 2013
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This review is from: The Virgin Cure (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed the book and it brought up a lot of interesting things to discuss. It gives a good feel for New York in the late 1800s.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars PROBLEMATICAL, May 23, 2012
This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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Initially, I was taken with the central character, Moth, and her circumstances. From the outset, however, I was distracted and ultimately annoyed by the historical bits and pieces (ads, articles, etc) that were inset into so many of the pages. They interrupted the narrative flow and were extraneous additions to information that was already in place in the text. I was also troubled by the disconnect from certain characters who were pivotal to the early part of the story - Nestor in particular, who played such a vital and positive role in Moth's life. It was hard to buy into Moth's move into Miss Everett's brothel and her stubborn insistence upon remaining there, despite having a viable alternative. I found the final segment of this book unpleasantly graphic. The author's depiction of child prostitution had long-since been accomplished by this point, and the horrific experience to which Moth was subjected came as gruesome overkill.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It just ends!, June 9, 2013
By 
Krystyn Lowe "Krys" (edmonds, Washington United States) - See all my reviews
I really liked the premise of this story, the time period is fascinating as is Moths story. While the story held so much promise, the characters just weren't really well fleshed out, no one is either all good or all bad as the book portrayed. What really bothered me was the abrupt ending, I paged back and forth a few times thinking I must have missed something, it's like the author just ran out of interest in the book or ran into a deadline. Sooo disappointing to have it just stop without any real conclusion! Boo.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, April 22, 2013
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This review is from: The Virgin Cure (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book...the characters, the setting and the story. The only thing I found disappointing was the ending, which I think was weak.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Misery's Company, April 1, 2013
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This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
Ami McKay's novel, "The Virgin Cure," is a story of poverty and its crushing weight on hundreds of thousands of people in Manhattan during the 1870's. Miss Moth Fenwick of Christie Street in the Bowery, the city's most deprived neighborhood where there is never enough of anything, shelter, food, or heat. Moth's mother eke's out an existence begging, stealing, prostitution, and telling fortunes. A gypsy, their ethnicity is important to the daughter as she grows.

The young girl's life receives still another knock when, at age 12, her mother sells her as a servant to a rich woman. The girl's elation at having food and shelter, not to mention decent clothing, is short lived when her mistress turns out to be a sadist who takes out her own misery with a philandering husband on her servant. Finally, in desperation, Moth runs away, only to find out her mother has moved - and she can only make her own way on the streets, begging and stealing.

Next, she meets another young woman who takes her to the house where she lives, a brothel owned by a woman who shelters young girls in order to sell them as virgins. After learning the manners and skills of deportment expected of proper young ladies, Moth is finally repelled at the sexuality expected as the price of her luxurious new life. Once more she runs away, this time to a safe house owned by a humane woman physician.

Although the plot of author McKay's novel is engaging and credible, it is the rich portrait of 19th century life in America's largest city with overwhelming poverty. The author's details of the period, transportation, the homes of the impoverished as well as their wealthy employers let's us leave the scenes as though we had actually been there while the drama unfolded. To add to the credibility, the author inserts topical sidebars, often dated, which reinforce the historical situations of the fiction. Of particular note in "The Virgin Cure", too, is the skill with which author McKay handles first person prose which can be monotonous in lesser hands. Not an easy task, her descriptions and dialogue were smooth, slick, and fast paced.

For a book that does for New York what Charles Dickens did for London, I recommend Ami McKay's "The Virgin Cure" as an important reading experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A coming-of-age tale in NYC during the 1870s, July 10, 2012
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This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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Picture this: it's 1871 in Lower Manhattan, and there in a seedy tenement on Chrystie Street, 12-year-old Ada "Moth" Fenwick lives with her mother, a fortune teller whose affections Moth desires, yet never receives. Ami McKay's thought provoking historical novel The Virgin Cure: A Novel begins with these words:

"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."

Moth and her mother had been left in poverty by her father, the man who had given her that name at a place called Pear Tree Corner, "whispered by a tree so old that it knew all of the secrets of New York." But Moth's father had a wandering eye, and he found a much younger companion of sixteen by the name of Katie Adams. Although this part in the story is almost insignificant, it is the stimulus that propels Moth into a life of servitude first, and then into prostitution.

Because of their extreme poverty, Moth's mother sells her into servitude to a wealthy woman, one who treats Moth with cruelty. Moth escapes and winds up on the street, becoming a pickpocket before landing at Miss Everett's decorously named "Infant School," a place where young girls are trained and groomed for their deflowering, available to the highest bidder. The most desirous of these young girls were virgins, as it was said that a virgin could cure a man of that most dreaded of diseases: the "French Pox," which we know today as syphilis.

Members of Victorian gentlemen's clubs believed that having sex with a virgin could cure a man of sexually transmitted diseases. At least such unions would prevent the man from becoming infected, so a brisk (and very costly) trade in virgins arose to cater to the whims and desires of these demanding gentlemen. After all, a gentleman would never take home such a horrendous disease to his wife; such was not forgivable in polite society.

And it's from this social practice that comes the title "The Virgin Cure."

If this sounds like something straight out of Dickens, this reader would agree. Author McKay has done her research quite well, and through her words it's not hard to picture the sheer desperation of life for the poor in Lower Manhattan during that time, even if one has never visited that area. But strangely, it's the men in this story who play the minor roles. It's the women and girls who have the largest influence in Moth's life, and among them are those who would take advantage of her innocence and naiveté. There are others who would rather protect her, especially Dr. Sadie, a physician who treats the impoverished and needy, and takes an interest in Moth. Doctor Sadie was one of the first female physicians in New York City, who attends the girls at Miss Everett's establishment. The idea for the Virgin Cure was based on McKay's search into her own roots. Her great-great grandmother was a physician in New York City, which made the story all the more interesting from a historical point.

Bottom Line:

Ami McKay's historical novel is a potent exploration of the issues facing women in that era, especially poor women. The author skillfully illustrates the imbalance of power between the sexes during those times. As a sad side note, the falsehood of the virgin cure for syphilis endures in some third world countries, and today as a cure for AIDS.

Author McKay interjects many quotes, historical side notes, newspaper items and such throughout the book, and even as a part-time New York resident, I had to follow up on the 'Net frequently, reading more about the real history that she skillfully interpolated within the story. She does this as skillfully as she did in her debut novel, The Birth House (P.S.), a 5-star book that was an award winner and a favorite with readers around the world.

But for this reader there was a major flaw in this story, and that was with Moth's innocence, her apparent naiveté. Early on we find her to be quite resourceful and streetwise beyond her young years, yet so often I expected her to be worldlier given her circumstances. And during training to be a prostitute, why wasn't she given any real instructions about sexual relations between women and men? The author didn't hold back with so many skillful descriptions throughout the book, but it was as if the author was holding back, and I kept asking, over and again: why?

Told in Moth's own voice, and layered with journal entries from Dr. Sadie, along with interjections from news stories and opinion pieces from that era, this historical novel is an engrossing coming-of-age story, a fast-moving and solid 4-star book that deserves the time taken to read it.

7/10/2012
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brutal, but honest, compassionate, hopeful, May 5, 2012
By 
Dawn Kessinger (Lima, OH United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Virgin Cure, The (Hardcover)
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I really liked most of this book - it's told from 12-year-old Moth's point of view, and she has a voice that captivated me from the beginning.

The story is so smooth and flows so easily and quickly, I found it exceptionally easy to get lost in it. Moth, through an unexpected betrayal, finds herself yanked from her life with her painfully poor, fortune-telling mother and thrust into life as a maid to very wealthy Mrs. Wentworth.

Mrs. Wentworth proves to be a bit insane and cruel, and Moth finds herself trapped (her reasoning for staying in an impossible situation will rip at your heart a bit). Because of a mixture of greed and compassion, Moth finds herself free, but that freedom comes at a steep price, since she has no job and nowhere to live.

It is a tragic irony that Moth finds herself choosing, in the false hope that she will be safe, to live in a house where she will train to be alluring to men in order to sell her virginity to the highest bidder. But this is where we meet Dr. Sadie, who supplies hope and education to the girls who live in Miss Everett's house. Miss Sadie proves to be the ray of sunshine that pierces the darkness of the danger and cruelty that intrude on the girls' lives. She's smart, strong, compassionate, and helpful in creative ways.

The virgin cure, Moth learns, was the belief that men who were ill could sleep with a virgin to cure their ills. Many ill men brutally raped virgins in a desperate attempt to cure themselves. Then the women would get sick, too, and society refused to help these women because they were seen as immoral.

The only thing I found disappointing was the ending. I felt it a bit abrupt and I was left wondering - sure, that's life, and I understand that. But I felt such a jolt at the sudden ending which didn't feel like it fit with the flow of the rest of the story. This however, doesn't change my overall recommendation of the book: It's well worth the read.
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Virgin Cure, The
Virgin Cure, The by Ami McKay (Hardcover - June 26, 2012)
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