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Book Review: Small Great Things

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  • Author: Jodi Picoult

  • Genres: Fiction, Contemporary

  • Published: October 11, 2016 by Ballantine Books

  • Length: 470 pages

  • More info on Goodreads

  • Available on Amazon

  • "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? 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."


Boy, this was a tough read. Emotionally, I mean. Jodi Picoult wrote a book that will forever be ingrained in my mind and for that, I applaud her. I give her a standing ovation.

Small Great Things is a book about race, prejudice, white privilege, love, and identity. Ruth Jefferson is an accomplished nurse with the strong opinion that a black person can get ahead in a white world through hard work and perseverance. She expresses her conviction that if she treats other people how she wants to be treated, she won't run into any racially motivated problems. Once she is arrested and accused of killing a white supremacist's infant- which she did not do- and her world goes topsy turvy, Ruth begins to wonder how she can continue to raise her honor-student son to accept this belief, to tell him that his diligence will all pay off when in fact it might not.

Picoult tells this true-story inspired tale through the eyes of Turk, the white supremacist dad, Ruth, and Kennedy, Ruth's lawyer.About halfway through this book, I found myself feeling the need to take short reading breaks. I don't usually do this, and it didn't occur to me for a little while that I was feeling overwhelmed and uncomfortable with Turk's chapters. I couldn't understand how so much hatred could be inside this one person. I knew and was aware that people with similar points of view do exist in America today but I guess I just wasn't prepared to read it. I have watched a show called Hate Thy Neighbor and if you're interested in this kind of stuff, I highly recommend it (but beware it is brutal and saddening/enraging).

Kennedy is a character I really appreciate. She represents the white person who is "totally not racist" and who "doesn't see color." Kennedy tries over and over and over to convince Ruth that this trial is not about race but to no avail. Ruth begins to see the racism surrounding her and the budding friendship between Ruth and Kennedy changes them both. I was really happy with the moments of self discovery because I felt that I was simultaneously understanding myself better as well.

My two complaints are 1) that this is a book about race written by a white author, and 2) the ending is SO perfect. I do not mean to say that I don't think an author should write about subjects "they don't know about" but I do mean that, while I continue to try to expand my reading list to include more authors of color, more women, and MORE MORE MORE transgender and gender nonconforming authors, I wasn't too happy when feeling like a I was being told "how to not be racist" by a white woman. Eh, but it's okay because I don't think that Picoult did anything wrong (by any means) and it is S O O O O important for this story to be told. As for the ending, it's as if Picoult wanted to add some flowers to a crown of thorns; totally out of place. It's too polished. I liked it better when it was prickly and uncertain- sometimes we just need a book that leaves us in a mess.

I could probably go on forever about Small Great Things (our book club meeting was AMAZING) but hopefully this is enough information to help you decide whether or not to read it! (You should read it!)


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