Updated: Mar 30, 2020
Wow. Just, wow. This book was stunning. It was heart wrenching and thought provoking. I felt conflicted and uncomfortable while I read it. If you do not believe white privilege exists, I encourage you to pick up this book. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is a powerful book about Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse, who takes pride in her job and also happens to be the only African American staff member. She is assigned to care for a family and their newborn son, when they request Ruth be taken off of their case because they are white supremacists and do not want Ruth to touch their child. The following day, the baby goes into cardiac arrest and Ruth is the only one present to help. She hesitates, questioning her manager's orders to avoid the family and child, but assists with resuscitating him. The baby ends up tragically passing away under her care and the parents are heartbroken and angry. Ruth soon finds herself being criminally charged with the baby's death, by hesitating to come to his aide. Ruth struggles with balancing the stress of the impending trial and keeping her life with your teenage son as normal as possible. This book covers race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion with the human race.
In Small Great Things, Ruth is fueled by love and passion, while the baby's father is fueled by hate and revenge. Ruth teams up with a public defender who is passionate about her case, but does not think that race should be brought up in the courtroom. Ruth is adamant that it should, because without the issue of race, she would not be in the situation she was in. The baby's father and mother stew with anger and hatred, determined to find a scapegoat for their pain. Unfortunately, Ruth is that scapegoat, and it progresses far enough to criminal charges and a public trial.
Picoult does an amazing job creating such depth in her characters and the multiple perspectives between Ruth, her attorney, and the baby's father are incredible. She really takes the saying, "walk a mile in my shoes," to another level. Each chapter is written in a different character's perspective and allows the reader to envision the story from that perspective, then emotionally ravages the reader by switching to another perspective. (Wow, I just said "perspective" three times in one sentence!) When I say I felt conflicted and uncomfortable when I read this, I truly mean it. But discomfort is not necessarily a bad thing. Discomfort breeds change and that is a common theme in Small Great Things.
Bottom line, it was incredible. Jodi Picoult was a favorite writer of mine when I was in high school and college. Her books always toe the line, evoke conflicting feelings, and have a beautiful resolution at the end. Small Great Things is no different. The situation that this book focuses on is heartbreaking and something that no parent should have to endure, but the events that preceded and followed are just as heartbreaking. Racism and prejudice is alive and well in today's society. Though, we have progressed throughout the decades, there is still more work to be done. A driving concept of this book was if Ruth had been white, would she still be on trial for the death of this baby? The answer? Probably not. It was a question that was in the background throughout each chapter and came front and center at the end.
I gave Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult a solid ★★★★★ review and I want to shout from the rooftops that everyone should read this book. It is beyond incredible and will expand your mind in ways you never thought possible. The only thing I didn't like, was that this cover did not do this book any justice! It is such a powerful story and deserves a better cover. Come on, people!