Book Review: The Virgin Cure

In a feat that I have yet to accomplish in what feels like years, I have spent all night reading a novel in one sitting. (Read: It’s currently 3 in the morning).

Set in the 1800s, Ami McKay’s novel The Virgin Cure (a novel which I got for $10 at Chapters – I enjoy deals!) can be easily summed up in one sentence: think Memoirs of a Geisha meets New York City.

Abandoned by a father and sold by her mother, 12-year-old Moth hopes to find escape from life on the streets, ending up in the hands of Ms. Everett, the owner of a brothel.

While Moth has spent her life craving the lavish life away from her rat-infested childhood, she must now face the demands of being an “almost-whore,” while waiting for a man to offer Ms. Everett the most money for Moth’s virginity.

With a combination of love, sex, history, poverty, and trying to define oneself (while struggling to survive) in that pivotal time we like to call the pubescent-angsty-teenager-stage, The Virgin Cure is far from a disappointment.

Expressed through Moth’s views, along with Dr. Sadie’s – who looks out for her, and with notes and excerpts from actual Victorian clippings, McKay does not shy away from detail.

With characters and descriptions that make you smell the stench that is the Manhattan slums, to tasting the stew that Moth gulps down in her starvation, to seeing the glamour and glitz of Victorian fashion and shows, McKay brings the Victorian era to life, right at your finger tips.

While the story is set on a historical backdrop, the elements of the content are nothing short of being relatable. While the novel’s events occur almost two centuries ago, The Virgin Cure has enough components and emotional rawness to allow any 21st century reader to relate to the characters, as well as the epidemic of STD’s spreading in Moth’s city.

Titled after the “myth,” with the same name, a virgin cure was an ideology where men believed that sleeping with a virgin could cure them of a disease.

And as we know, that isn’t the case.

Especially in Moth’s world.

In 368 pages, readers look through the eyes of a child not yet ready to grow-up, but ultimately forced to truly see the world around her.

While parts of McKay’s narrative are nothing short of grim and stomach-churning, Moth’s innocence still shines through as a narrator. McKay’s writing style and descriptions, only add to the emotion of the story, that you can’t help but feel every pang of pain and relief and joy and fear running through Moth’s mind.

Although the story is almost predictable in its concluding moments, McKay’s writing has the innate ability to grab readers and keep them hooked.

I mean, it can’t be helped that despite Moth’s naivety, you’ll still find yourself rooting for her until the end.

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