The Virgin Cure

The Virgin Cure

Hardcover | October 25, 2011

byAmi Mckay

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Following in the footsteps of The Birth House, her powerful debut novel, The Virgin Cure secures Ami McKay''s place as one of our most beguiling storytellers. (Not that it has to… that is pretty much taken care of!)

"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 the year 1871. As a young child, Moth''s father smiled, tipped his hat and walked away from his wife and daughter forever, and Moth has never stopped imagining that one day they may be reunited – despite knowing in her heart what he chose over them. Her hard mother is barely making a living with her fortune-telling, sometimes for well-heeled clients, yet Moth is all too aware of how she really pays the rent.

Life would be so much better, Moth knows, if fortune had gone the other way - if only she''d had the luxury of a good family and some station in life. The young Moth spends her days wandering the streets of her own and better neighbourhoods, imagining what days are like for the wealthy women whose grand yet forbidding gardens she slips through when no one''s looking. Yet every night Moth must return to the disease- and grief-ridden tenements she calls home.

The summer Moth turns twelve, her mother puts a halt to her explorations by selling her boots to a local vendor, convinced that Moth was planning to run away. Wanting to make the most of her every asset, she also sells Moth to a wealthy woman as a servant, 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, but also a locale frequented by New York''s social elite. Their patronage supports the shadowy undersphere, where businesses can flourish if they truly understand the importance of wealth and social standing - and of keeping secrets. In that world Moth meets Miss Everett, the owner of a brothel simply known as an "infant school." There Moth finds the orderly solace she has always wanted, and begins to imagine herself embarking upon a new path.

Yet salvation does not come without its price: Miss Everett caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are "willing and clean," and the most desirable of them all are young virgins like Moth. That''s not the worst of the situation, though. In a time and place where mysterious illnesses ravage those who haven''t been cautious, no matter their social station, diseased men yearn for a "virgin cure" - thinking that deflowering a "fresh maid" can heal the incurable and tainted.

Through the friendship of Dr. Sadie, a female physician who works to help young women like her, Moth learns to question and observe the world around her. Moth''s new friends are falling prey to fates both expected and forced upon them, yet she knows the law will not protect her, and that polite society ignores her. 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.

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The Virgin Cure

Hardcover | October 25, 2011
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From the Publisher

Following in the footsteps of The Birth House, her powerful debut novel, The Virgin Cure secures Ami McKay's place as one of our most beguiling storytellers. (Not that it has to… that is pretty much taken care of!)"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...

Ami McKay was born and raised in rural Indiana. After an undergraduate degree in music education and graduate studies in musicology at Indiana State University, she moved to Chicago to teach music at an inner city high school for the arts. In her off hours she would write, filling notebooks and journals with short stories and ideas for novels. In 2000, McKay moved to Scots Bay, Nova Scotia (for the love of a good Can...

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 8.5 × 5.92 × 1.17 inPublished:October 25, 2011Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0676979564

ISBN - 13:9780676979565

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Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A book to recommend to my friends This is the second book I have read by Ami McKay. This author writes beautifully drawing you instantly into the story. I was intrigued by the story, felt compassion for the characters. I couldn't stop reading it. Would without a doubt recommend this book to friends.
Date published: 2015-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Virgin Cure I don't know why i waited so long to read this. It was truly wonderful. Engaging right from the beginnng until he end. I loved Moth and could identify ith her 11-13 year old thoughts. On the cusp of girl to wonanhood and having no choice but to grow up before her time. Loved it, loved it...
Date published: 2015-07-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Manager Really enjoyed the The story is authentically told - great read
Date published: 2014-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Virgin Cure Well written. Could not put it down
Date published: 2014-07-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good read The story never really went anywhere, and 12-year-old Moth seemed too mature for her age.
Date published: 2014-06-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A well-told tale ... ...of a little-known chapter of New York's history. Not pleasant information but well- depicted characters make this a gripping read
Date published: 2014-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Virgin cure well worth reading! Sad but engaging story of the difficulty for young women in1800s to survive. Women were definitely commodities to their families and society. The poorer you were the more hopeless it seemed. Dr. Sadie was certainly a woman before her time. Her attempt to change the lives of women and children was heart warming.
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh Just ok. Not great, not terrible. The birth house was infinitely better.
Date published: 2014-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Virgin Cure Amazing story! I could not put it down, and even when I was finished I still could not help but think of Moth.
Date published: 2014-03-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Virgin Cure A great read !! Eye-opening yet heart wrenching. Well written.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Virgin cure Was a exteremly good read
Date published: 2014-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... It has been a long time since I read this book, but I still think of it often. Very powerful.
Date published: 2013-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... While McKay's first book, The Birth House was a tour de force, The Virgin Cure doesn't disappoint. McKay uses historical facts to create a compelling story. Recommended.
Date published: 2013-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Travel through time... Awesome yarn, page turner, very well written.... A definite 2 thumbs up!
Date published: 2013-10-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... Though predictable, this novel was a good read. Very interesting. Leaves you wondering why anyone would allow themselves to sink so low. Sometimes circumstance force tough decisions. What a sad life.
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Travel through time... Very well written, Left me wanting more. Spicefamily
Date published: 2013-10-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... Enjoyed The Birth House and was not disappointed with the Virgin Cure. Ami Mckay does a wonderful job of bringing history to life...
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Travel through time... After reading the Birth House and The Virgin Cure I can't wait for Amy McKay's next book to come out! Truly amazing stories that you become so immersed in that you feel like you are actually in the book. You will not want to put this book down and will never want it to end!
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... I enjoyed reading about the kind of existence that the poor of this era endured. I am not sure the proper word is enjoyed! However McKay makes subjects come to life. Both books I have read we're page turners. I have Lenny this book and others have enjoyed it also
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Travel through time... Really enjoyed this book. Wonderful characters and I felt so sorry for Moth and Alice. But I wanted the book to go further and tell us what had happened to the characters later in life (maybe a sequel?) which is why I gave this book 4 stars.
Date published: 2013-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprising story Moth is a young girl being raised by a careless mother in New York. When her mother sells her to a woman for a ladies maid, it would seem Moth's fortunes have turned for the better. But she finds her new mistress to be very cruel and she flees the grand house to find her way into a brothel that specializes in selling the virginity of young girls. With an unflinching eye, this book show life on the mean streets in a time when "the virgin cure" was sought by moneyed men who were no better than pedophiles. A totally mesmerizing story that made me think of Emma Donoghue's book Slammerkin.
Date published: 2013-06-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was OK Though I preferred the Birth house this book is rife with interesting historical quirks. Taking us on a personal journey of twelve year old Moth, a girl from the slums, who dreams of owning her own home with a sitting room and two love birds. Once she is sold by her Mother (a matter of when, not if) her life spirals into the unknown world of thieves and prostitution. Very interesting but I found some parts of the plot to be quite convenient.(less)
Date published: 2012-12-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Really? You all loved the book that much? I did not like this book very much. While I enjoyed the story of Moth, I found the book to have so many "loose ends" in the way the story was written. There was no closure in any part of the story - it jumped from one direction of Moth's life to another. I didn't read The Birth House, but at this point I don't think I would.
Date published: 2012-11-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from unsual and unforgettable read This book drew me in from the start. I often had trouble putting it down and found the plot unique and unforgettable. This one will stay on my bookshelf for a second reading.
Date published: 2012-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderful and unique read! Where do I even begin with this review of Ami McKay’s latest novel, The Virgin Cure? I had eyed this book many times both in book stores and online, but finally got hold of it by winning a Twitter contest by Random House of Canada. Excited to finally have a book by Ami McKay, a wonderful Canadian author, I realized that I had no clue what the novel was even about. I was initially drawn in by the odd name and the beautiful cover. I did not expect the novel to be what it was about and I really didn’t think that I would enjoy the subject matter so much! The Virgin Cure is about a young girl named Moth who is growing up in the slums of New York in the 1800′s. When Moth is 12 years old, her mother sells her to be a servent for a wealthy woman. From that point on, Moth’s life is nothing like she dreamed it would be — as she goes from being a slave to being one of the young girls men seek out while looking for the “virgin cure.” The whole time I was reading this novel, I couldn’t believe how the young girls were treated. In fact, the very notion that one could sell their child in order to make a pretty penny seemed unthinkable to me, but I had to get over myself and realize that things like this did happen in the past (and probably still happen in some parts of the world, though I claim ignorance to that. In fact, it seems that there are many parts of the world where children are forced to do things that are well beyond their years and I can only be thankful that I was not raised in those kinds of places.). Throughout the novel, the reader witnesses Moth’s youth and naïveté – a young girl who is still so innocent, but wise beyond her years, just looking to be loved. I adored Moth’s character and felt for her every time she felt up, and felt her sorrow every time she was down. She was willing to work for what she wanted, even if that included doing things that seemed far beyond her character. I also really enjoyed Dr. Sadie’s character and how she wanted to save the young girls forced into such wrongness. McKay is a wonderful writer. Not only is her writing beautiful and accessible, but she peppered tidbits of information about the time period throughout the novel. Not only did I get the satisfaction of reading such a unique novel, but I also learned something as I read. My only problem with these tidbits of information, however, was that I didn’t know when to read them. McKay places them in the story as sidebars, but there was no indication as to when the reader’s eyes should leave the paragraph and read the sidebar. If you’re looking for a wonderful, unique read by a great Canadian author, give The Virgin Cure a read. It’s a fast-paced, heartfelt, yet serious and sad read, and I can’t help but recommend it.
Date published: 2012-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read! I really enjoyed reading this book. It is an easy, quick read that I couldn't put down. I enjoyed the journal/scrapbook feel to the layout and how the author used this to inject some alternative perspectives into the narration of the story. I liked how "the virgin cure" was subtly mentioned in the book. Based on this I had a pretty good idea how the novel was going to end but to my surprise, the role of the 'virgin cure' was not as I expected. This made the ending of the book pleasantly surprising. The author does a great job developing her characters so that I really felt connected to the main character Moth. This story is ultimately a sad one but the strength of the main character prevents it from being a tear-jerker. I would highly recommend this book to my fellow readers. I will be looking for other novels by this author in the future!
Date published: 2012-01-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from "really good" i read this right after finishing ("she's come undone"- completely different book). i wanted something easy to read that took me away from day to day stress. the virgin cure is a great story about a young girl living in poverty in NYC during late 18th century. Her name is Moth and the reader will follow her life as a 12yr old on the streets of NY and into the warm, comfy and beautiful rooms of the rich and cruel. in the 18th century before venereal diseases where identified and isolated came the cure by "virgins". welcome to the world of taking young girls off the streets into training, beautiful gowns and escorting wealth men to theatres. preparing for each other of their first time with a man. the highest bidder for your virginity. because sleeping with a virgin will cure your disease or keep you from disease. follow Moth as she becomes daughter of a gypsy to the lady's help to homeless and finally a whore in waiting. great easy book to read. love the extra fun "historical" facts included along the side. thank goodness society has changed! sit down and give yourself a few hours you will be finished this in no time. ENJOY!
Date published: 2012-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it This is the second book by Ami and I couldnt put it down. The writing is rich and memorable and I was disappointed when the book was finished. I cant wait for her next book.
Date published: 2012-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! Loved this book. The author did an incredible job taking us back in time, to an era on the streets of Manhattan that I knew little of. I was immediately drawn into the story of young Moth, and found myself pining for her success in surviving the filthy streets of New York. The book had a somewhat scrapbook/journal feel, with the extra tid-bits of information lining the borders of the pages, and I loved this. It added depth and insight to the story. I couldn't put the book down. See my complete review here: http://letseatbooks.blogspot.com/2012/01/virgin-cure-by-ami-mckay-my-first.html
Date published: 2012-01-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ok, but the Birth House was better ... I would give this book 3.5 stars. It was good, but I'm not raving about it. This author's "Birth House" was much better. This story is more about the tragedy of poor Moth's coming of age in the late 1800's in NYC, than it is about any myth of a 'virgin cure'. Unfortunately, there was something missing about Moth's character development; while a sympathetic character, I wasn't made to care about her enough to rate this book any higher. I'm glad to have read it, and it kept my attention ~ so a quick and easy, albeit not terribly entertaining read. A hesitant recommendation.
Date published: 2011-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Story Description: “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, bestselling author Ami McKay’s much-anticipated new novel. Set in the tenements of lower Manhattan in 1871, where the author’s own great-great-grandmother once worked as a groundbreaking female physician, the novel is told in the voice of Moth, the daughter of a Gypsy fortune teller and a ne’er-do-well who abandons them both a smile and a tip of his hat. Left to struggle on their own, Moth and her Mama lead a hard life, one that requires Moth to become more streetwise with each passing day. Although she comes to believe she’s seen it all, nothing prepares Moth for the terrible surprise her mother gives her when she turns twelve: the news that she must leave her home to live as a servant in the house of Mrs. Wentworth, a lady of station and means (and, as Moth soon discovers, inventive cruelty). These betrayals lead Moth to the Bowery, a wild, murky thoroughfare filled with house-thieves, pick-pockets, beggars, sideshow freaks, and prostitutes. Hungry, desperate, and haunted by a sexual predator, Moth sees an introduction to Miss Everett, the owner of a nearby brothel, as her way to a better life or, at the very least, a soft bed and a full belly. To Miss Everett, Moth is simply another chance for profit, as her establishment is known as an infant school, caters to gentlemen who pay dearly for companions who are “willing and clean,” the most desirable of them all, young virgins like Moth. In this new life, Moth finds friendship with the other girls in the house as well as with Dr. Sadie, a visiting physician who has followed her social conscience into working with prostitutes and the poor. While Moth’s housemates risk falling prey to the myth of the “virgin cure” – the belief that deflowering a girl can heal the incurable and tainted, Dr. Sadie warns Moth to question and observe the world around her so she won’t share the same fate. Still, Moth dreams of her own big house on Gramercy Park and 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. My Review: Moth and her mother live alone in a stark and dirty tenement after her father left them when she was just three-years-old. He left with the bit of money saved in a cookie tin and her Mom’s only piece of silver she owned, which was a tarnished sugar bowl. Moth wanted affection from her mother. She wanted to hold her mom’s hand, sit on her lap and kiss her cheeks like all little girls do but her mother pushed her away telling her: “…when you were a baby, I held you until I thought my arms would fall off. Oh, Child, that should be enough.” Moth said she didn’t mind because she loved her mom anyway. The summer Moth turned twelve, her mother sold her to a woman named Mrs. Wentworth and shed no tears when she was taken by this woman as her mother wouldn’t stand for it. She always said: “American girls don’t whimper.” Moth took a seat in Mrs. Wentworth’s carriage but couldn’t see where they were going as all the curtains were closed. After a while the carriage rolled to a stop and all Mrs. Wentworth said was: “You’re to go right to bed…I want you rested for tomorrow.” As Moth was falling asleep in her new residence she whispered out loud into the room: “How much did you get for me, Mama”? What a sad thought to know that you’ve been ‘SOLD’ by your own mother! Mrs. Wentworth began whipping Moth’s wrists on the soft side of her arms leaving bruises the colour of a rainbow. She then began slapping her across the face for the smallest of infractions. She was jealous of Moth’s beauty and she was out to destroy that beauty. Moth suffered so much pain for such a young girl. Can you imagine growing up poor, living in a filthy dirty tenement, your mother is a Gypsy fortune-teller, you have hardly any food and then you’re sold by the very woman who gave birth to you! I was immediately drawn in by this story, I was mesmerized and could picture in mind’s eye the brothel, the rooms and could actually “feel” Moth’s embarrassment at having to undress for the men. I was so attuned to Moth’s psyche that I could feel what she felt and shared her heartbreak and pain at every turn and that makes for some very good writing. To enable a reader to get into the mind of the character is no easy feat but Ms. McKay pulls it off without a hitch. The book definitely lived up to long wait and I’d highly recommend it to everyone and plan on keeping this as part of my permanent collection.
Date published: 2011-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Story!!! This story is just as good as Ami's first novel 'The Birth House" I enjoyed it very much and will read the book for a second time during this long cold winter! I hope I don't have to wait another 4 years for her next novel!
Date published: 2011-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Read! The title 'The Virgin Cure" seems surprising, until one learns that in Victorian New York, men afflicted by syphilis believed that they could be cured by the blood resulting from deflowering a young, untainted virgin girl. This historical fact forms the premise of this story. Based on historical fact, the Virgin Cure is the most entrancing novel. I was totally immersed in the desperate and impoverished streets of Victorian New York City, along with narrator and protagonist, 12 year old Moth. " Moth" was born to a gypsy fortune teller and a father that she never knew. By the age of 12, Moth's mother abandons her, selling her into servant hood to a lady of means. Unfortunately this lady of means is also cruel and unbalanced ,and eventually Moth makes her escape. Finding no one to turn to, Moth tries to make a home on the streets of New York City.Rats, death, and crime are rampant for those living on the streets. Over time, Moth is lured into a upscale brothel, known as the the " Infant School." Young Moth is still 12, and on one hand street wise, but on the other hand , innocent of knowledge concerning menstruation or sexual relations. Miss Everett, the proprietor of the Infant School, trains young virgins to be "men's companions". Miss Everett's area of expertise is that of providing wealthy gentlemen with young, clean girls , for the purpose of the " Virgin Cure." Female physician Dr Sadie, following her social conscience, has devoted her life to working the the poor and and with prostitutes. She endeavors to help young Moth leave what is essentially a whorehouse. The Virgin Cure is a wonderful read. The world of impoverished Victorian New York is brought to life with great detail, and the characters, very believably drawn , come vividly to life. Dr Sadie and the strong willed, intelligent young Moth provide strong female protagonists. At times the the subject matter of the novel is painful to read, but I was entirely swept away into Moth's world. A fascinating tale, in which the author has taken pains to supply historical detail pertaining to the novel, The Virgin Cure almost reads itself, such is it's thrall. A wonderful read!
Date published: 2011-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An extraordinary journey of self discovery More reviews can be found at: http://thelittlebluepig.blogspot.com/ How long has it been, dear Mckay, have I been awaiting the publication of this amzing book? Two years, I tell you, two years. Alas, it has been published, read and now I will review it. The Birth House has been my all time favorite book, Ami Mckay was sure to win my favoritism again with this one. The Virgin Cure by Ami Mckay was an amazing, beautiful and meaningful book about friendship and the ever undying journey of finding oneself. To begin this journey of self-discovery, we learn of Moth, a twelve year old girl who is sold to be the maid of the cruel and abusive Mrs. Wentworth. After being abondoned by her father, and then her mother, Moth is left alone. First waiting upon Mrs. Wentworth, with the help of Nestor, she is able to escape. But that is only the beginning. Soon she finds herself at a brothel, owened and operated by Miss Everett, who only uses the girls for her establishment as profit. The men who "bid" on the girls, such as Moth, pay and then "have" the girl, however, who must be "clean." Through this, Moth befriends a physcian, Dr. Sadie, who warns and attemtps to remove Moth from the world Miss. Everett is offering. This was an extraordinary read I feel so preivileged to have read. It was inspiring and heart breaking. It evidently left me thinking about Moth's life. How scared she must have been, at twelve, alone, introduced into a world full of "whores." Ah, and the writing was just beautiful. The point of view of Moth was refreshing and eye-opening. Ami Mckay is a beautiful writer who really uses descriptive words to interpret the emotions and going-on`s of the time. Historical fiction is about reliving the past, which only a good writer can accomplish. Ami is amongst them! Fiction books have that extra special favoritism to me. They can teach you so much about our past, opening our eyes to the changes and advances we have made. Women have come along way since the times of 1871. Ami Mckay does a beautiful job at creating a past world, transporting our minds there, reminding us of the hard and sorrow times our ancestors once lived. Personally, I am thankful for our changing times. To be twelve, alone, living in a house where you are trained to win the affection of men just sickens me. This was a worthwhile read. If you are a historical fiction lover, as am I, you will love this book. Prepare to be moved by the story of a little girl named Moth. Rating: 5 curly pig tails(less)
Date published: 2011-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourite reads for 2011! Ami McKay's first novel The Birth House was a phenomenal success. I have no doubt that her newly released second novel - The Virgin Cure - will also be bestseller. And, it's one of my favourite reads for 2011. I was hooked from the opening line..."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." And so begins the story of Moth, born into the slums of Manhattan in New York City. In 1871 Moth's mother sells her - to a wealthy woman looking for a young servant. When that situation becomes untenable, Moth runs away and finds herself alone on the streets with no prospects. Until the owner of a brothel in the Bowery that 'caters to men looking for young companions who are 'willing and clean' takes her in. In Miss Everett's "Infant School", the most desirous of all are virgins, for it is said that a virgin can cure a man of that most scurrilous of diseases - syphilis. One bright light in Moth's life is Doctor Sadie, 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. What did I love so much about this book? Well, everything! McKay's characterizations are rich, detailed and believable. I became so invested in Moth and Dr. Sadie, sharing their fears and dreams. Both of these characters are strong, strong female leads, staying true to themselves despite the obstacles put before them. The setting is just as much of a player in the novel. McKay's depiction of 1870's New York conjured up vivid scenes crackling with detail. McKay includes historical side notes, newspaper articles, pictures and more throughout the book. I found myself on the Internet many times following up with the history she presented. Ultimately - it's a book that is so engrossing, so readable, so fascinating that I wish I could give it six stars. I just can't seem to articulate what a great read this is from such a skilled Canadian story teller. Highly, highly recommended!
Date published: 2011-10-25

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Read from the Book

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. “Don’t go . . .” Mama would call out in her sleep, begging and pulling at the blanket we shared as if it were the sleeve of my father’s coat. Lying next to her, I’d wish for morning and the hours when she’d go back to hating him. At least then her bitterness would be awake enough to keep her alive. 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. I loved the way she’d tie her silk scarf around her head and then bring the ends of it to trail down her neck. I loved how she’d grin, baring her teeth all the way up to the top of her gums when she looked at herself in the mirror, how she’d toss her shawl around her shoulders and run her fingers through the black fringe of it before setting her fortuneteller’s sign in the window for the day. The sign had a pretty, long-fingered hand painted right in the middle, with lines and arrows and words criss-crossing the palm. The Ring of Solomon, The Girdle of Venus. Head, heart, fate, fortune, life. Those were the first words I ever read. It was my father who gave me my name. Mama said it came to him at a place called Pear Tree Corner—“whispered by a tree so old it knew all the secrets of New York.” The apothecary who owned the storefront there told my father that he could ask the tree any question he liked and if he listened hard enough it would answer. My father believed him. “Call the child Moth,” the twisted tree had said, its branches bending low, leaves brushing against my father’s ear. Mama had been there too, round-faced and waddling with me inside her belly, but she didn’t hear it. “It was the strangest, most curious thing,” my father told her. “Like when a pretty girl first tells you she loves you. I swear to God.” Mama said she’d rather call me Ada, after Miss Ada St. Clair, the wealthiest lady she’d ever met, but my father wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t care that Miss St. Clair had a diamond ring for every finger and two pug dogs grunting and panting at her feet. He was sure that going against what the tree had said would bring bad luck. After he left us, Mama tried calling me Ada anyway, but it was too late. I only ever answered to Moth. “Where’s my papa?” I would ask. “Why isn’t he here?” “Wouldn’t I like to know. Maybe you should go and talk to the tree.” “What if I get lost?” “Well, if you do, be sure not to cry about it. There’s wild hogs that run through the city at night, and they’d like nothing better than to eat a scared little girl like you.” My father had thought to put coal in the stove before he walked out the door. Mama held onto that last bit of his kindness until it drove her mad. “Who does such a thing if they don’t mean to come back?” she’d mutter to herself each time she lifted the grate to clean out the ashes. She knew exactly what had happened to him, but it was so common and cruel she didn’t want to believe it. Miss Katie Adams, over on Mott Street, had caught my father’s eye. She was sixteen, childless and mean, with nothing to hold her back. Mrs. Riordan, who lived in the rear tenement, told Mama she’d seen them carrying on together in the alley on more than one occasion. “You’re a liar!” Mama screamed at her, but Mrs. Riordan just shook her head and said, “I’ve nothing to gain from lies.” Standing in front of the girl’s house, Mama yelled up at the windows, “Katie Adams, you whore, give me my husband back!” When Miss Adams’ neighbours complained about all the noise Mama was making, my father came down to quiet her. He kissed her until she cried, but didn’t come home.  “He’s gone for good,” Mrs. Riordan told Mama. “Your man was a first-time man, and that’s just the kind of man who breaks a woman’s heart.” She meant he was only after the firsts of a girl—the first time she smiles at him, their first kiss, the first time he takes her to bed. There was nothing Mama could have done to keep him around. Her first times with him were gone. “God damn Katie Adams . . .” Mama would whisper under her breath whenever something went wrong. Hearing that girl’s name scared me more than when Mama said piss or shit or fuck right to my face. The day my father left was the day the newsboys called out in the streets, “Victory at Shiloh!” They shouted it from every corner as I stood on the stoop watching my father walk away. When he got to the curb, he tipped his hat to me and smiled. There was sugar trailing out of a hole in his pocket where he’d hidden Mama’s silver bowl. It was spilling to the ground at his feet. Some people have grand, important memories of the years when the war was on—like the moment a brother, or lover, or husband returned safe and sound, or the sight of President Lincoln’s funeral hearse being pulled up Broadway by all those beautiful black horses with plumes on their heads. “Victory at Shiloh!” and my father’s smile is all I’ve got. The rooms I shared with Mama were in the middle of a row of four-storey tenements called “the slaughter houses.” There were six of them altogether—three sitting side by side on the street with three more close behind on the back lots. If you lived there, there was every chance you’d die there too. People boiled to death in the summer and froze to death in the winter. They were killed by disease or starvation, by a neighbour’s anger, or by their own hand. Mothers went days without eating so they could afford food for their children. If there was any money left, they put ads in the Evening Star hoping to get their lost husbands back. My Dearest John, please come home. We are waiting for you. Searching for Mr. Forrest Lawlor.Last seen on the corner of Grand and Bowery.He is the father to four children,and a coppersmith by trade. Mr. Stephen Knapp, wounded in the war.I’ll welcome you home with open arms.Your loving wife, Elizabeth. They stood in the courtyards behind the buildings, pushing stones over the ribs of their washboards and sighing over the men they’d lost. Elbow to elbow they put their wash on the lines that stretched like cat’s cradles over that dark, narrow space. Our back court was especially unlucky, having only three sides instead of four. The main attractions were one leaky pump and the row of five privies that sat across from it. The walls and roof of the outhouses leaned on each other like drunken whores, all tipsy, weeping and foul. Only one of the stall doors would stay shut, while the other four dangled half off their hinges. The landlord’s man, Mr. Cowan, never bothered to fix them and he never bothered to take the trash away either, so all the things people didn’t have a use for anymore got piled up in the court. Rotten scraps, crippled footstools, broken bits of china, a thin, mewling cat with her hungry litter of kittens. The women gossiped and groused while waiting for their turn at the pump, hordes of flies and children crawling all around them. The smallest babes begged to get up to their mama’s teats while the older children made a game picking through boards and bricks, building bridges and stepping-stones over the streams of refuse that cut through the dirt. They’d spend all day that way as their mothers clanged doors open and shut on that little prison. Boys grew into guttersnipes, then pickpockets, then roughs. They roamed the streets living for rare, fist-sized chunks of coal from ash barrels or the sweet hiss of beans running from the burlap bags they wounded with their knives at Tompkins Market. They ran down ladies for handouts and swarmed gentlemen for watches and chains. Kid Yaller, Pie-Eater, Bag o’ Bones, Slobbery Tom, Four-Fingered Nick. Their names were made from body parts and scars, bragging rights and bad luck. Jack the Rake, Paper-Collar Jack, One-Lung Jack, Jack the Oyster, Crazy Jack. They cut their hair short and pinned the ragged ends of their sleeves to their shirts. They left nothing for the shopkeeper’s angry hand to grab hold of, nothing even a nit would desire. Girls sold matches and pins, then flowers and hot corn, and then themselves.

Bookclub Guide

1. Miss Everett could be seen as doing work that “saves” girls, whether from poverty or from working the streets, and she is an established member of New York society. What do you think of this argument, considering the few options for young girls like Moth?2. What makes Moth such a survivor? Is she better or worse off without her mother?3. The young Moth spends a lot of time fantasizing about the lives of the wealthy and how her life could have been different. Do Moth’s early experiences with the Wentworths dispel some of those fantasies, or shore them up?4. Moth’s mother tells Mrs. Wentworth that Moth’s name is “Miss Fenwick.” Later, Moth chooses to use the name “Ada” while she’s in the brothel. How do these and other names change the way Moth sees herself? How does calling herself “Ada” help her to cope?5. How does Ami McKay use mystery and hidden secrets in The Virgin Cure? For instance, consider the various characters who live secret lives, or the importance of fortune-telling, or the role of the old Stuyvesant pear tree in the lives of early immigrants.6. Most of the girls in Miss Everett’s house believe their lives can only improve if they win the continued affection of one of her rich clients. Dr. Sadie ensures that this doesn’t happen for Moth by taking her to visit Katherine Tully. Why do you think Miss Everett lets Moth go along with the doctor for the day?7. What sorts of sacrifices does Dr. Sadie have to make in her work and her life?8. Discuss the title of this novel and the different ways it relates to the story within its pages. Discuss the devastating myth of the “virgin cure” – not only how it took hold in the New York of this novel, but how it continues today in parts of our world.9. What character in this novel intrigues you the most, and why?10. Throughout the novel, McKay uses elements like Dr. Sadie’s diary, margin notes and newspaper ads to convey information, whether about her characters or more generally about the New York of the day. Talk about the effect these parts of the narrative had on your reading, and your experience of Moth’s world.11. Reread the Evening Star article that appears just before the novel’s epilogue – a report on the debut of the Circassian Beauty at Dink’s Museum. Compare the exotic story about her past with what really happened to Moth.12. At the end of the novel Moth lives in a home on Gramercy Park and seems to have reached her life-long goal – yet she’s only nineteen. What do you think the future holds for Moth?