Claire Holden Rothman’s debut novel was a bestseller in Canada, where it was originally published in 2009. I am excited to post this review because The Heart Specialist has not received the attention it deserves, and it is not a book that necessarily screams teen appeal from its description or cover.
But this is a story that will certainly appeal to historical fiction readers, and to those interested in pursuing a medical profession. And of course teens tend to love stories about young people defying societal expectations and overcoming their circumstances to succeed against the odds. I predict that this will make a great booktalk.
Adult/High School–When Agnes White’s grandmother discovers her knee deep in the blood of an autopsy she is performing on a squirrel, it is only with the intervention and guidance of her enlightened governess that she is allowed to continue her studies to become a doctor. It’s not easy being a smart, inquisitive woman in late 1800’s Canada but Agnes is determined to follow in her missing father’s footsteps and to seek out the truth of his life. Her father’s colleagues, the specimens he saved–especially the “Howlett Heart”–and the laboratory she manages are all clues to understanding him; and while her single-minded attention to matters of the heart remain scientific, she ultimately ignores the matters that really count. Loosely based on the real life story of Dr. Maud Elizabeth Seymour Abbott, a pioneering Canadian doctor, this book captures the tone and setting of its time. The frustration of wanting to attend medical school and being told that it is impossible is clearly shown. The book will show teens the hardships that women faced as they attempted to make their way into professions dominated by men. Agnes’s determination and perseverance will draw in readers, who will root for her all the way.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA