Ami McKay discovered the idea for her second historical novel (following The Birth House) while researching her own family. Her great-grandmother was a doctor on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 19th century, caring for the homeless children living in the alleys and tenements of the area. McKay describes her research in an Author’s Note at the back of The Virgin’s Cure, which you can read yourself on Amazon – the Look Inside! sample includes the full Note.
McKay started out thinking that Dr. Sadie would be the main character, but then she found 12-year-old Moth’s voice and the book really came together. Some have called Moth’s story Dickensian, and this is something the author would readily admit — she re-read Dickens and Edith Wharton while writing.
Adult/High School–“The Virgin Cure” refers to a popular myth of the late 1800s in which a man infected with disease could be cured by having intercourse with a virgin. This created a vast market in delivering young girls to wealthy “gentlemen” for deflowering. Escaping the cruelty of the gentlewoman to whom her mother sold her, 12-year-old Moth comes to the attention of Miss Everett, a Madame who specializes in creating young whores who could satisfy a gentleman’s lust for a young conquest. Unable to avoid what she assumes will be her fate, Moth joins Miss Everett’s band of girls. Miss Everett has strong rules and an eye to making money from these girls as she trains them. But Moth has an ally in Dr. Sadie, a doctor who dedicates her life to helping young women who fall prey to establishments of shaky repute. McKay brings 1871 New York City’s Chrystie Street alive with all its chaos, smells, hunger, and neglect. Moth is filled with the desire to live a better life than she could reasonably expect. However, when an opportunity presents itself, she discovers that not only can she create her own future, but she also has friends who will help. Dr. Sadie is based on the author’s great-great grandmother, who worked to relieve the plight of women and children. Moth’s story exemplifies the few choices available to young women of poverty and the cruelty placed upon them by those with wealth. This is a terrific choice for teens interested in history; the rights of women; and a determined, feisty character.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA