“Based on the life of one of Canada’s pioneering female physicians, [this] novel paints an arresting portrait of an indomitable yet vulnerable young woman” (Booklist).
Set in Quebec near the beginning of the twentieth century, The Heart Specialist is the epic story of Agnes White, a lonely orphaned girl fascinated by the “wrong” things—microscopes, dissections, and anatomy instead of more ladylike interests. When Agnes is young, her father, a French-Canadian doctor living in Montreal, is charged with the murder of his handicapped sister. Although he is eventually acquitted, his reputation is ruined, and he flees, abandoning Agnes and her pregnant mother.
Less than a year later, her mother dies of consumption, leaving Agnes and her baby sister, Laure, on their own. From this tumultuous childhood, the story follows Agnes as she grows up yearning to track her father down—and to follow in his footsteps as a doctor, even though medical schools in Canada don’t yet admit women. She eventually finds a niche for herself as the curator of the McGill University pathology museum. But even as her professional star begins to rise, her life is solitary and her happiness remains incomplete. A world-renowned expert on the human heart, she still struggles to understand her own.
Inspired by the career of Maude Abbott, one of Canada’s first female physicians, The Heart Specialist is a story about the mysterious, painful journey into selfhood, and a “brilliant first novel” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).