Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.
I’ve had to take some time since finishing this book to really collect my thoughts and wrap my head around all the things I gained by reading this book. I’ve been a Picoult fan for years and have read almost every single one of her books, so I knew beforehand that I would be in for a heavy read. She always manages to write novels that make the reader really think and contemplate various situations, but she’s really outdone herself here. She tackled some extremely substantial subject matter in a empathetic manner that moved me to the point of tears. (More than once)
There are three various viewpoints here; Ruth the nurse who is told by her boss and patient that she is not allowed to do her job because of her skin color, Turk the patients father who sets this entire situation in motion, and Kennedy, the public defender who represents Ruth when she is charged on multiple counts due to her alleged neglect. Picoult seamlessly weaves all of these perspectives together and still manages to write in a distinct voice for each character.
The growth of the characters in Small Great Things is astounding and may be Picoult’s best work in that department yet. Ruth reveals parts of herself that she has never even acknowledged herself during the course of the story. She is facing the biggest challenge of her life and is faced with an uncertain future. Her main priority is ensuring that her teenaged son, Edison is taken care of and her life is in the hands of Kennedy. But how can she put her trust in a woman who has literally no idea how it feels to walk in her shoes? Turk is the sort of character that you loathe as soon as you meet him, he’s a proud white supremacist and there isn’t really much about him that is redeeming. But by the end of the book, I at least had a better understanding of what shaped him into the hateful man that he was. Things come full circle in a way that is classic Picoult and if you’re looking for her usual twist, you won’t be disappointed.
Racism is hard to watch, difficult to read about, and almost downright impossible to discuss in an open and honest manner. Picoult wrote a really profound authors note at the end that explained why she was compelled to write a book on the subject of racism. She said she felt like it was the right thing to do, even though she was aware that it would be highly controversial and she would inevitably experience some blowback. I applaud her for tackling such a deep and volatile issue, it cannot have been easy. I’m so glad that she did though, it is timely and relevant and it was really thought provoking. It made me think about the difference between prejudice and discrimination, about how all white people are privileged in some way based on their skin color alone, and how ignorance still runs rampant in the United States. Book clubs would seemingly never run out of topics to discuss surrounding this book, the possibilities are endless.
I could blather on and on about all the emotions I felt while reading this, I was outraged, disgusted, enlightened, sad, happy, hopeful. It was quite an emotional read to say the least. It’s not a book to pick up if you’re looking for something light or easy, but if you want a read that is captivating, emotive, and provides some insight into race relations, this is a must read.
Overall rating: 5/5