Title: Small Great Things
Author: Jodi Picoult
Series: Stand Alone
Date Read: 20 November 2016
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.
This book was a surprise for me when I read it. I can’t say that I’m a fan of Jodi Picoult; her writing style always seems a little dry to me and she always acts like she’s better than everybody else. In Small Great Things, she tackles race relations and hatred in such a way that is approachable.
It is told between three characters: Ruth the black nurse, Turk the white supremacist, and Kennedy the defense lawyer. I was fully expecting Picoult to make these characters stereotypical caricatures of real life, especially of Turk, but to be honest, it wasn’t as much. Turk tells his story of how he became who he is, which makes it easy to see why he became so hateful and vengeful, especially towards Ruth. Ruth is a gentle woman who has fought her way through her life in order to become where she is, only to be found ostracized by everyone she thought she was a part of. Kennedy, a lawyer who decided she wanted to be a defense lawyer, comes to find that maybe her reasoning may have been to make her feel better rather than to actually help anybody. And when we reach the end to Ruth’s guilty/innocent verdict and a surprising revelation of Turk’s wife’s heritage, I found the end to be fitting. In the end, Picoult implores us to look at us and each other for who we are inside rather than what we look like.
I found Small Great Things to be an engrossing read. Towards the end of the book though, I was getting a little bored. The trial part was a little slow and the struggles from all characters were starting to get repetitive and boring. I understand why we needed to see how Ruth’s son changed into a moody, delinquent child and how Ruth herself transforms herself into an angry black woman who decides to go against her lawyer’s advice in order to get her voice heard, but it seemed boring to me after a while, as it didn’t seem to move the story any further after the first couple of times. Even Turk’s 180 turnabout at the end seemed quick to me. Granted he admits to signs of distrust, but still changes quickly. By the end of the book I was glad to have finished the book.
Overall, I found this book to be a timely read and something we all need to look at as a society.