What’s it all about?:
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?:
First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, apologies that it’s taken me so long to write up my thoughts on this thought-provoking and emotionally raw novel! I have to say, I loved the way Small Great Things was marketed in the initial stages. It was sent to me without a title, author, cover image or even blurb on the back. All we were asked to do as reviewers was #readwithoutprejudice. Sorry the image is a little small but you can hopefully see that it’s purely just a black and white cover with very little information about what the story might be about. This was a really new and fascinating way to read a novel and I was excited to see if I could guess the author based on the content.
Did I guess it? Funnily enough, I did! I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult for a while, in fact one of my favourite books of all time is My Sister’s Keeper which my sister Chrissi Reads and I re-read fairly recently for our Banned Books series. Saying that, I haven’t read one of Jodi’s books for a little while but it was comforting to realise once I had finished that she hasn’t lost her touch with approaching controversial topics and family dramas in an open, honest and often nail-biting way. In Small Great Things, we are thrust into the world of Ruth Jefferson, a black labour and delivery nurse who is shocked to her core when some white supremacist parents explicitly request that she should not be permitted to touch their newborn child. When the child in question becomes gravely ill and requires resuscitation, Ruth hesitates briefly and this leads to her being blamed for the child’s death which goes to court in a dramatic showdown between Ruth, her white lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and the child’s mother and father who strangely enough have appointed a black lawyer for themselves to prosecute Ruth.
The story is told from multiple perspectives (one of my favourite devices used by an author) and we hear not only from Ruth herself but from her lawyer Kennedy and interestingly, from the white supremacist father, Turk where we get a fascinating insight into his past, revealing how he came to hold the extreme views that he does at the time of his son’s death. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jodi Picoult book without a courtroom drama and she is one of the few authors excepting John Grisham who writes this part of the narrative in such a compelling way, making it impossible to put the book down.
As I mentioned before, the author courts controversial topics with ease, grace and dogged determination and I always enjoy finding out the topic she will be getting her teeth into next. Without a doubt, Jodi Picoult is like a dog with a bone when she talks about racism through the eyes of her black character, Ruth and I was slightly concerned that writing as a white woman, Ruth’s voice might not feel particularly authentic but I had absolutely no further concerns once I started to read from her perspective. All the characters, even those minor ones that we rarely see were drawn perfectly and were incredibly believable, especially the villain of the piece, Turk whose back story was particularly intriguing. At times, I have to admit it may have come across a bit “Racism For Beginners,” but despite that I still think it’s a book that needs to be read and such a prominent issue both now and in our past.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):