Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book does what most of Jodi Picoult's novels do ... take something controversial and make it real to the average reader. This particular novel centers around racism and I found it to be especially timely given the current racial politics in America.
Here's a quick (spoiler-free) overview - 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.
I found this one to be a very powerful read. It gave me a new perspective to think about when it comes to racism. I am not close to the white supremacist movement. In fact, I try to avoid hearing about their beliefs because I find them so repugnant. This book gave me an insider's look at white supremacy. It also gave me even more information about what it is to be black in America. The view into Ruth's life were fantastic (albiet a bit heavy handed at times). I really learned from them. They gave me things to rethink. It made me start looking at the world around me differently. Which I think is KEY to getting to a better place on issues of race. However, I will also say that Ruth also wasn't the best character in the novel - she could have been handled so much better, in my opinion. Picoult's handling of Ruth's story felt heavy handed ... and didn't always feel authentic. Although I think the story does do what Picoult wants it to do ... take a look at racism, I think this novel could have been even more if Ruth had been handled a bit better.
I struggled a bit in putting into words my thoughts because although I really liked this novel and think it is a good step in the right direction, I did find it to be less authentic than I'd hoped. I didn't seem able to find the right words but then I read Roxanne Gay's review at the New York Times and she said it even better than I ever could have. So, I recommend that you check that out here. It's a really thoughtful look at the novel.
All in all, I highly recommend this one. I think that, despite it's flaws, it's a really great way to begin a conversation about race. This might be a good book club pick or a book to read along with friends.
NOTE: I received this ARC from the publisher for an honest review.