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! Check out The Pear Tree Planchette for excerpts and ephemera. You can find Ami McKay on Facebook and on Twitter.