The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay.
"I know someone who can help you make a new start," Mae said, pushing her bowl aside. "She'll put you in new clothes, give you a place to stay-"
The cut of her dress, the quality of her boots, the winning smile she'd given the oyster opener, all pointed in one direction.
Are you a whore?" I whispered, interrupting her before she could finish.
My question, blunt and awkward as it was, didn't seem to bother her in the least. Tugging at the wrists of her gloves and pulling them taut, she looked me in the eyes and replied, "Almost."
Moth finally manages to escape from Mrs. Wentworth's, and after scavaging on the streets for a few weeks she finds herself a home at a whorehouse - or a home for "near" whores, anyway, whose virginity is sold to the highest-bidding gentleman caller. Miss Everett, who owns the house and prepares the girls, is a shrewd businesswoman, and it is Dr. Sadie, the woman doctor who examines the girls, who soon becomes Moth's friend. Dr. Sadie knows that Moth needs to escape from the house, but meanwhile Moth has nowhere to go.
I had never heard of the "virgin cure" before - in the 1800s, men with syphilis thought that the blood of a "fresh maiden" would cure their disease - and Dr. Sadie is able to see firsthand how one encounter like such ruins a girl for the rest of her life. The story is told in first-person from Moth's point of view, but there are news articles and also reports from Dr. Sadie that help provide more perspective to the reader. During the story I kept forgetting that Moth was only 12 years old - she tells Miss Everett that she's 15 - and it's crazy to think about Moth "selling" herself like that, even though she did get a home of sorts in the bargain.
3.5 stars out of 5.
*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.