The Virgin Cure

Photo: Ben Goldstein/Studio D

5 of 7
The Virgin Cure
336 pages; Harper
Moth is a 12-year-old girl growing up in the tenements of Lower East Side Manhattan in 1871, "born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart." The heroine of Ami McKay's sobering novel The Virgin Cure is sold into servitude by her mother but escapes to the streets, begging and thieving to survive. Rescued in an alley, Moth accepts refuge at Miss Emma Everett's Infant's School, a brothel of certified virgin maidens who, after being checked by the kindly Dr. Sadie, "are brought into the trade gradually, with care and consideration for their tender age"—instead of having their purity brutally stolen by men seeking the "virgin cure" for syphilis. But for Moth, this is a slavery no better than the one she escaped. With Dr. Sadie's help, our hardscrabble heroine invents a new career for herself as a performer at Mr. Dink's dime museum, finally creating the kind of independent life she craves.
— Abbe Wright