Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Title: The Virgin Cure
Author: Ami McKay

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / New York City / Prostitution / Poverty / Coming of Age)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (6/ 26/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal!
Did I finish?: I couldn't stop.
One-sentence summary: The Dickensian life of Moth, a 12-year old girl who finds herself in a brothel that specializes in virgins.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do, as Peter Stuyvesant's pear tree features in the story on the fringe, and I like that it's restrained compared to the lurid promise of the plot.

I'm reminded of...: Geraldine Brooks, Talia Carner, Sadie Jones, Lois Leveen

First line: To the Reader: In 1871, I was serving as a visiting physician for the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is a fantastical novel.

Why did I get this book?: The title!

Review: Despite the title and the premise, this isn't a 'sexy' book, and it's not a historical romance. It's a delightfully real, horrifyingly evocative look at 19th century New York City of the poor -- and one girl's experience with a brothel that specializes in virgins.

(I snarfed this book down during a work conference, and struggled with this review during my post-conference cold, so I apologize now for not properly conveying the delightful awesomeness of McKay's novel.)

The story is told by Moth, in her voice, annotated by Dr. Sadie, a physician of means inspired by the work Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who offers care to prostitutes in the Bowery. Moth, a twelve-year old girl, is sold by her mother as a servant to a cruel, rich Manhattanite -- and when she can't stand that life another moment, she flees, deciding life as cared-for prostitute might be better. It is there, at the 'Infant School', where she meets Dr. Sadie, and she learns what power and fortune she can claim for herself.

Often a hard-to-stomach story, McKay's writing kept me coming back -- I'd put the book down for work, or sleep, or something else, and literally vibrate with eagerness until I could pick it back up again. Moth felt real -- which made reading her story so discomforting! But I trusted McKay and the arc of the book and in the end, I was deeply satisfied. The conclusion -- hopeful but realistic -- left me able to close the book without feeling too devastated and I'm already missing Moth and Dr. Sadie. (I'd love a novel about Dr. Sadie, who was inspired by McKay's ancestor!)

Even those allergic to historical fiction might enjoy this novel as I found the heart of the story to be Moth's coming unto her own. New York City of the 1870s -- especially Manhattan and the Bowery -- came alive but didn't overshadow Moth or her story. I can't rave enough about the way McKay articulated what could have been a credulity-straining plot and I so enjoyed the unique way she told Moth's story. Titillating enough in premise for summer but with enough heft to keep one engaged, this is one that's going to make my must read for 2012.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Virgin Cure to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/13.


38 comments:

  1. I don't think I've read a bad thing about this book. It sounds wonderful!

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    1. It's really marvelous -- McKay is a fabu writer!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it -- so good!!

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  3. This sounds great! I love anything set in Old New York so I will definitely have to get my hands on this one :)

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    1. Oh, you'll dig this one very much, then!

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  4. This book sounds fascinating. I am liking historical fiction more and more; like you, the title and the cover would have sold me in the first place. Glad to hear you couldn't put it down.

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    1. The title immediately grabbed me as well -- the story hooked me hardcore!

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  5. I loved this book! I thought it was very well written, and the plot kept me glued to the pages. Great review!

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  6. You had me interested after you wrote that it reminded you of Geraldine Brooks & Talia Carner! Can't wait to read it.

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    1. Yaay! Yes -- wonderfully well-written, uncomfortable, memorable -- so good!

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  7. Everything about this is right up my alley! Can't wait to score myself a copy.

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  8. When I first heard of this book I thought, "How depressing." But your review has me thinking otherwise. Thanks, Audra!

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    1. Col -- it could have been so badly done but instead, it was brills. Do give it a try!

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  9. LOL at the range of emotions I was going through.
    "COOL!" at Dickens
    "Uh oh" at Brothel
    "EEK" at prostitution
    "Hey I know Stuyvesant from Orphanmaster!"
    But hey Audra Likes It! It's not too sexy for me!
    LOL
    Great review!

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    1. Marie, you made me howl!! Sadly, I suspect this might not be your thing -- even though it's not sexy, there is some sex and it's wicked uncomfortable and grim. Not graphic but it's there.

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  10. Aw man, how can I not read this? Curses. *adds one more to towering TBR stack*

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    1. Do it, do it! It's v much worth adding to the TBR!

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  11. I'm not sure of this one myself, as I wasn't that big of a fan of McKay's The Birth House, but your review is definitely tempting me to add it to my tbr pile :-)

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    1. Melissa -- what didn't you like abt that book? Sadly, this was my first McKay novel so I can't say how it might be similar/dissimilar to her previous one.

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    2. The story itself just never managed to capture my interest, although there were components of the novel that I enjoyed a great deal.

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  12. Oh wow, this looks very very good. I've been on a History Takes Manhattan book kick, lately. This one ties in nicely.

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    1. You will love this one then -- it's so v NYC in the 1800s -- marvelous!

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  13. I'm hooked by the title and cover of this one! Thanks for the review.

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    1. Stephanie, once you start, you'll be seriously hooked!

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  14. For me this sounds like a very tough read given the subject matter and the narration sounds a bit convoluted with the annotation of Moth's narrative. However, it seemed to work for you and that cover and title are very tempting

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    1. I didn't find the annotations distracting but others did -- it was clear and fascinating -- but the subject matter was tough. Like I told Anna, I kept aging Moth up because I was in denial!

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  15. Definitely planning to read this one -- great review Audra. (Hope your work trip went well).

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    1. It did, Diane -- thanks! Can't wait to see what you think of this one!

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  16. My daughter is turning 12 in less than a month...so that would make this hard for me to read. But still it sounds really good!

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    1. I bet! I kept imagining her as 16ish in my head automatically -- kneejerk denial!

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  17. I've only read a few reviews for this book, but so far all have been great! Thanks for the giveaway!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Laura -- it was such a good one!

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  18. I'll be reading this one over the weekend, and now I'm even more excited! Amy Reads raved about it when it came out in Canada forever ago, and I'm really looking forward to it!

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    1. I hope you love it. I should add I was reminded a bit of Emma Donoghue -- her histfic, at least -- and it's deliciously, creepily dark.

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  19. I think I'm going to go on an Ami McKay binge here pretty soon -- I want to read The Birth House and this book sounds fantastic as well.

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