Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: October 11, 2016
First Line: "The miracle happened on West Seventy-Fourth Street, in the home where Mama worked."
Book Description from GoodReads: 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.
My Rating: 5 stars
My Review: Picoult is known for writing compelling stories about timely, ethical issues and Small Great Things is no exception. It was immediately drawn into the lives of the three main characters who share their points of view -- Ruth, the African-American nurse who is charged with a crime; Kennedy - the white lawyer who defends her and Turk, the white supremacist whose young son has died. By using these three varied points of view Picoult delves into the issue of racism.
These perspectives engage the reader immediately with characters who are well-rounded and believably flawed. You will love some of their actions and hate some but I guarantee you will feel something. It is, at times, heart-wrenching, maddening, shocking and frustrating but always compelling. The characters face different issues and I can't say that I was 100% on board with any of them. While I abhorred Turk's racism I could also sympathize with his loss as a parent. While I found what happened to Ruth unjust and maddening I also wondered why she didn't make other choices.
Some people criticize Picoult for being too formulaic but one cannot deny that she gives her readers food for thought. She, once again, uses her 'ethical issue/courtroom drama' formula (which I was fine with) but I'll admit to not being a fan of the ending which I found was wrapped up too easily and predictably. Satisfying but predictable.
Picoult has opened the discussion regarding intolerance and racism - in both its active and passive forms. Hopefully, this book will give readers a new perspective on racism and show how even small comments and actions only help to perpetuate the current environment of intolerance. Just because the situation is fine for us some of us, doesn't mean we shouldn't stop and think about how it affects others. It's this message of passive racism that stood out for me the most.
" If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way."
- Dr. Martin Luther King
Picoult tackled this topic with a lot of research and an equal amount of sensitivity. I encourage people to read the author's note at the end of the book regarding why she, as a white woman, took on the topic of racism. With all the moral, ethical and racial issues that were touched on I feel that this would make an excellent book club selection.
This book continues to creep into my thoughts and I find myself wondering about the daily racism that people of colour continue to face - especially subtle, passive prejudice. What I'm hoping is that we keep this discussion going. Talk about racism and intolerance with our kids. Call people on their racist comments. Listen and believe people when they share their experiences. Racism isn't just about hate. It's about ignorance. It's about an unbalanced system of power and about the little things that encourage intolerance.
We can be better than this. We need to do better. Everyone has the chance to make a difference - small or great. We just need to choose to do it.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.