Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

By Ekta R. Garg

Oct. 5, 2016

Genre: Women’s fiction

Rated: Binge it! / 5 stars

A black nurse must face the consequences when a patient, the child of white supremacists, dies. The family pursues legal action. When the nurse gets assigned a white public defender, she approaches her upcoming trial with the singular truth that its outcome will not only make a statement about her professional skills but also about race relations. Jodi Picoult challenges readers to spend time in careful consideration of some of the hardest questions of our current times in the astounding novel Small Great Things.

After 20 years as a labor and delivery nurse, Ruth Jefferson believes she’s seen it all. She’s helped young mothers put on makeup minutes after delivery. She’s held the hands of women who feared retaliation from an abusive partner and watched a new father tear up when he holds his baby for the first time. Labor and delivery are involved, messy affairs, and she’s been allowed access to it all.

Until now. At the start of a morning shift when Ruth walks into the room of new parents, she does her routine exam of the baby. As soon as the exam is done, the father orders Ruth to call a supervisor. The problem? Ruth is black, and the couple is white. More significantly, they’re white supremacists and don’t want Ruth anywhere near their son.

Ruth’s supervisor makes a note of their request, and Ruth gets reassigned to a different patient but she’s seething. She knows about the stereotypes and the misinformation, and she’s done everything within her power to fight against both. She’s a war widow—her husband gave his life in duty—and her son is a star student in school.

Now, though, it seems like her abilities as a nurse aren’t good enough to stand alone. The situation gets even more complicated when the baby goes into distress and then dies in Ruth’s presence. The white supremacist couple hires a lawyer to go after Ruth. She’s suspended pending the outcome of her trial, which looks like it’s going to be a bust when a white public defender with no murder trial experience takes on her case.

Ruth can’t quite figure out why Kennedy, her lawyer, wants to help her. Doesn’t Kennedy see her as another statistic? And what in the world would Kennedy know about being judged for the way a person looks? Yet as the two first work together and then get to know one another, Ruth learns that what others see or don’t see matters less when a person decides to take a stand. After toeing the party line her entire life, Ruth decides enough is enough. She’s going to cross right over and make a lot of noise.

Author Jodi Picoult, well known for taking on social issues, will leave her readers in awe with Small Great Things. Less ambitious authors would have settled to tell the story from Ruth’s point of view. Picoult gives Kennedy and Turk, the white supremacist father, equal billing with Ruth. The result is three radically different points of view, and three characters who do what only the best characters can: make readers understand their particular circumstances.

In her author’s note Picoult shares that she did extensive research for the book. She spoke to African American women and asked them pointed, and sometimes hard, questions about race and race relations. She also interviewed two former skinheads, men willing to offer candid responses about the white supremacy movement.

The research has resulted in a book that will force anyone, of any race, to examine their own beliefs. It will also offer more details into the minds of those who pursue different life paths when it comes to those beliefs. Nothing in these sensitive matters is cut and dry, and Picoult acknowledges that fact by staring it in the eye instead of shying away from the hardships that come when people judge one another simply based on the color of skin.

Anyone who has any interest whatsoever in bettering race relations needs to read Small Great Things. I recommend readers Binge the book and also buy it and pass it along to others.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)