Monday, July 16, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
Published June 2012 by HarperCollins
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours

Almost five years ago, The Omaha Bookworms read and loved Ami McKay's The Birth House. To this day, it remains the book we spent the most time discussing, the book that generated the most conversation about our own lives. For five years I've been waiting, impatiently, for McKay's next novel. So, yes, I did squeal a little bit when TLC Book Tours offered me the chance to be on the blog tour for McKay's latest book, The Virgin Cure.

"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. 

My father ran off when I was three years old. He emptied the rent money out of the biscuit tin and took my mother's only piece of silver - a tarnished sugar bowl she'd found in the rubble of a Third Avenue fire."

"She never held my hand in hers or let me kiss her cheeks. If I asked to sit on her lap, she'd pout and push me away and say, "When you were a baby, I held you until I thought my arms would fall off. Oh, child, that should be enough." 

I didn't mind. I loved her."

Unfortunately for 12-year-old Moth, her mother didn't reciprocate those feelings, more concerned with her own needs and desires. Still, when Moth was sold to a rich woman, Moth believed her mother was sending her off not just to make money but to live a better life. Abused in her new situation, Moth escapes only to end up on the streets, in more desperate straits than ever and it's then that she's "saved" and brought to Miss Everett's "Infant School," a home where the proprietress grooms young girls for their deflowering by the highest bidder. In 1871 New York City, Moth knew she would have to make a sacrifice in order to survive in the style she'd for which she longed.

It's no secret that I love well-researched books that don't feel like the author is trying to cram every piece of knowledge they gained into the book. McKay does it right; her books are so immersed time and place that's it's easy to forget that the books weren't written long ago. Her unique style here, of adding asides, special notes, and "newspaper clippings" allow her to flesh out parts of the story without distracting from it.

Then there are McKay's characters. Moth, who will become Ada to be more appealing to men, is both worldly and naive, so trusting in each new situation. Mrs. Wentworth, who hires young girls to tend to her only so that she can abuse them for reasons that will later become clear to Moth. Mr. Dink, a P.T. Barnum competitor, who capitalizes on his acts and oddities but who genuinely cares for them. And Dr. Sadie, one of the first female doctors (modeled after McKay's own great-great grandmother) who does all she can to protect and comfort Miss Everett's girls and destitute of the New York's Lower East Side even though it has cost her a place in her own family.

As for the writing, I'll let McKay speak for herself:
"Sometimes, for  a moment, everything is just as you need it to be. The memories of such moments live in the heart, waiting for the time you need to think on them, if only to remind yourself that for a short while, everything had been fine, and might be so again."

Featuring strong female characters, issues that still resonate today, and an ending that it just right, I highly recommend The Virgin Cure. Like The Birth House it would make an excellent book club selection.Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour; for other opinions, check out the full tour here. Ami McKay is active on the internet - check out her website, "like" her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or check out her boards on Pinterest.

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