Saturday, November 12, 2016

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi PicoultJodi Picoult, the author of more than 25 novels, most of which sparked some kind of controversy or made us look at issues that made us uncomfortable, has returned with a new novel SMALL GREAT THINGS, which the author herself believes is her most important book yet.  What elephant in the room does she tackle this time?  Racism and prejudice, and by the time I was done reading the book, I began to see the essential difference between the two. Before I give even the slightest summary, I want to clarify a few things which Picoult shared at the end of the book.  Number one,  Picoult is not Black and understands that many will criticize for trying to tell a story from a black point of view (as well as from a white supremacist).  Picoult points out that all authors take on characters, points of view, and roles that they have never lived; that is the definition of fiction.  But then she goes on to share the in-depth research she did including the case of a group of Afro-American nurses who sued a Detroit hospital for discrimination and interviews with a former white supremacist who know teaches tolerance.  Although I was often uneasy with the words and thoughts I read (truly, I could feel my skin begin to crawl when I read Tuck and his wife's thoughts), I never felt anything was portrayed inaccurately or exaggerated for fiction's sake.

Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse of more than twenty years, arrives at work one morning and takes over the care of an infant boy born during the night.  As she examines the baby for the preliminary health report, she senses that both the mother and father are extremely tense.  Still she is taken aback when the father Turk shouts not to touch his wife and demands to see a superior.  Soon Ruth learns that Turk and his wife are white supremacists who demand that no black is to be involved in their son's care.  Since Ruth is the only black nurse in this small maternity ward, the restriction, which her supervisor agrees to, clearly means Ruth is NOT to touch the infant.  Ruth is called in a day later to cover for a sick colleague, and when all the other nurses are called away from the unit for an emergency C-section, Ruth finds herself watching the little boy who is recovering from a circumcision. When he begins to show respiratory distress, she must make a split-second decision that ultimately leads to a murder charge when she is "thrown under the bus" by the hospital.

The book's narration alternates between Ruth, who is trying to process how she who has always done everything right and has overachieved her entire life can suddenly come so low simply because she is black; Turk, whose grief transforms quickly to hatred and revenge; and Kennedy, the defense attorney who finds herself drawn into Ruth's saga.  Privilege, hard work, perceptions, hatred, and race all come under close scrutiny in this powerful novel.  Like most Picoult novel's, SMALL GREAT THINGS offers surprises and twists, producing a powerful and soul searching read.
This book just released in October and I was fortunate enough to score an e-copy through our state's library for digital books. 

1 comment:

  1. I also secured an ARC of this book from a conference, and eagerly started reading it. I (too) was uneasy with some of the words and thoughts of certain characters, and actually only made it a third of the way through the book. While I think Picoult is a talented author, it was definitely a tough subject to read with what is going on in today's world. I couldn't help but think of some of the tween African American girls my daughters are friends with, and could not read the story without envisioning this happening to them.

    I had eagerly anticipated this book, it received many great reviews in the journals (I'm a librarian). However, I think the story could have been told with a lighter pen and it would not have changed the storyline or context of the story. With that being said, Picoult is known for her novels that step over the line and tough subject matter, I think her true fans will find this an excellent read.