Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Review Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Publisher: Ballentine Books
Pub. Date: October 11th, 2016
Pages: 470


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.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I am a huge fan of Jodi Picoult and have been since first reading Nineteen Minutes. While I haven't loved each book I've read I have loved most of them and, regardless, she always presents a complex topic with a host of complicated and varied characters that keep me conflicted and engaged until the last page.  She does not shy away from picking themes that touch on the situations that make many readers uncomfortable or angry but writes the stories in such compelling and heart wrenching ways that you feel for the characters and their lives even if you don't always agree with whatever situations they are presenting. Small Great Things is no exception and Jodi Picoult is at her best once again with this complex and multilayered story of race, discrimination, and understanding as only she can write it.

The characters in this novel are amazing. The story is told through three perspectives: Ruth, a black nurse who loses her job and is charged with a crime due to a situation involving a baby; Kennedy, the white attorney who represents her; and Turk, the white supremacist father of the baby involved. Ruth is a remarkable woman and nurse and there were a few times that her descriptions of caring for the various babies and mothers as a Labor and Delivery nurse over the years really touched me. My son was born a preemie and remained in the hospital for the first month of his life, and it was the amazing nurses during that experience that kept me from completely losing it. Ruth is a true amalgamation of these nurses and the love she feels for her charges is palpable, which makes what she experiences all the harder to swallow. Kennedy is wonderful as well, often funny if misguided in her attempts to relate to and assist Ruth, and being a white woman myself her experiences trying to navigate and truly understand this complex and tangled world of race and privilege was very relatable. I found Turk and his wife to be just disgusting, close-minded, and hypocritical and while I could empathize with their abject grief at losing their son so suddenly, their misdirected blame and hate towards Ruth and, really, anyone who didn't look like them made it impossible to really feel anything for them. There are quite a few secondary characters that add perspective and spice to the story as well and I think each one presented a point of view and point of reference that covers many, if not all, of the possible viewpoints of this overarching theme.

Something else I quite enjoyed was learning the medical and law jargon and procedures that aren't always shown or known to those outside the fields.  It felt very realistic and authentic and helped ground the story with facts and methods inside what can otherwise be very emotional. Whether the case or not, I imagine the author must have done quite a bit of research to get these aspects correct and I appreciate, as a reader, the time and effort put in to make the story as accurate as possible.

There are no easy answers or real resolutions to the situations expressed in Small Great Things, and I think anyone looking for that is missing the point of what is being discussed. The black characters would still be forced to face the fact that they're black based on the way they are treated by others, whether in overt or covert ways, every single day of their lives while the white characters might not even have to think about the color of their skin on any given day. This, obviously, can be transferred to the real world as well. Per the story, it is only when people start understanding and acknowledging that fact that any change can possibly happen. There is so much to discuss with this sort of story and I imagine book clubs will eat this one up.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

You know, I'm not a big fan. I think it's kind of simplistic, and I don't really know how the polaroid pictures relate to the story other than possibly being symbolic of each polaroid representing a point in time that, when one falls out of place, it knocks the rest out of alignment. There are so many other things that could have better represented the cover and, if it wasn't for the fact that I love the author's books, it wouldn't have drawn me to read the story.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

I purchased a copy of Small Great Things for my own library and all opinions are my own. To find other reviews of the book as well as links to where you can purchase a copy check out Goodreads HERE

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