Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things is Jodi Picoult at her best. She takes a difficult subject, in this case racism in America, and she turns it into an extremely compelling, fictionalized narrative. This book is difficult to read. It opened my eyes even more to the hatred that abounds in this country. Ruth, an African American labor and delivery nurse, is asked not to care for a newborn because his parents are White Supremacists. When tragedy strikes, and she’s the only nurse around, she is accused of murdering the baby instead of helping to save him. She teams up with Kennedy, a white public defender on her first big case.

The book is written in alternating chapters in Ruth’s, Kennedy’s, and Turk’s (the baby’s father) voices. I had read Jodi’s novella, Shine, so I was somewhat familiar with Ruth before starting this book. I knew of her upbringing and her mother’s career as a housekeeper for a wealthy white family. I felt for Ruth right away, and I identified with Kennedy very easily since we belong to the same demographic. I struggled with Turk’s chapters. I couldn’t understand him or his family at all, even if I was somewhat sympathetic about his childhood struggles.

Jodi Picoult tells this story in a very realistic, but non-judgmental way. She’s started a conversation that needs to be had in this country. I had some complaints about the book – the way the chapters sometimes overlapped, so events were repeated from another character’s perspective, the length of the book, and the epilogue – but overall this was a great read. I highly recommend it, and I mailed my copy to my mother (also a Picoult fan) almost immediately upon finishing reading it.

Rating: 4 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher at BEA 2016 in exchange for an honest review. This fact does not in any way impact my thoughts/feelings about the book.

Small Great Things
Jodi Picoult
Ballantine Books
October 11, 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.

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