Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publishing Date: 10/2016
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.
Ruth Jackson grows up in New York with her mother, Adele, who works as a maid for a wealthy family in Manhattan, and her sister Rachel who later changes her name to Adisa. The Hallowell's daughter, Christina, is close in age with Ruth and they become friends. When Mrs. Hallowell was pregnant and Adele helped her deliver the baby it impacted all the girls differently into their adulthood - Rachel/Adisa had 5 children, Christina had a child through a surrogate and Ruth became a labor and delivery nurse. Ruth absolutely loves her job and has over 20 years of experience in her field. She was the nurse on duty when Brittany and Turk's son, Davis, is born. While doing a routine check-up on the Davis and Brittany, Ruth noticed that Brittany and Turk were acting strange and chalked it up to the nervousness of being new parents. Needless to say she was shocked when they requested her supervisor to remove her from their care. It turns out that Turk and Brittany are white supremacists and did not want a black nurse touching their child. Although she doesn't agree with the decision she abides by it. A few days later Davis is circumcised and Ruth is the only nurse available to watch him when the attending nurse has an emergency with another patient. Unfortunately, Davis stops breathing and Ruth is left with a tough definition, does she help the child even though she's not supposed to touch him or does she do nothing? When her supervisor returns to the room, Ruth assists her supervisor in reviving Davis but he dies. As expected Turk and Brittany are upset and blame Ruth for Davis's death and file a criminal complaint which leads to Ruth being arrested in her home. While being arraigned Ruth meets her public defender Kennedy McQuarrie. Kennedy, who is white, believes Ruth is innocent and wants to take on the case herself, although she doesn't have enough experience with murder cases. Kennedy did not think bringing race into the courtroom would benefit Ruth because she believes justice is blind and it wouldn't help Ruth to bring up race in court. However, Kennedy didn't take into account her own prejudices and biases while preparing for the case and it took a lot of . In the meantime, Ruth lost her job and had to find a way to take care of herself and her teenage son, Edison. Kennedy realized in order to gain Ruth's trust she has to let Ruth tell her own story. . . she did try to save Davis even though she wasn't supposed to touch him. Ruth told the court that essentially race and prejudices have affected her life, for example not getting promoted, although she's been working in the hospital longer than her younger and newly employed supervisor. During the trial, Kennedy presents evidence that there were complications in the pregnancy which caused Davis's death. After the trial the lives of Ruth, Turk, Brittany and Kennedy changed in many different ways.
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
Small Great Things title comes from a Dr. Martin Luther King quote during the Civil Rights Movement in which the goal is for people not to discount small acts of service because even small acts can mean big things and lead to big acts. Jodi Picoult understood that choosing Dr. King's words might cause some issues but she wanted the people who read her book, and in particular white people, to find not only find his words inspiring but as a guide to self-awareness. Keeping the topic in mind, this book is definitely a powerful read. It deals with so many topics that can be difficult for readers to read such as: race, prejudice, infant death, white supremacists, suicide and the legal system to name a few. I went through a spectrum of emotions while reading this book: anger, sadness, disbelief and reflection. Reading this book when racism seems to be prevalent and undisguised was hard. Picoult did a really good job making all the voices in the book believable whether you wanted to hear them or not. I would like to give Picoult credit because she did a lot of research and spoke to people that could help her understand the points of view that she was writing the characters about. She interviewed and sat down with women of color and two former skinheads to do the proper research for the book. She enrolled in social justice workshops and learned about what White Power groups believe in. While writing Small Great Things, Picoult could have easily pandered to one character or tried to make the whole book into a kumbaya moment but I think she thought through how she wanted each character to be portrayed and to make the reader think about their own views and how they contribute to racism. I often find that writers who write books outside of their culture don't take the time to understand the subjects and just write about their perceived truths.
Overall, I really can't do this book justice. It's definitely a page turner. There's no way you can read this book and not take stock of what your beliefs are, what, if any, prejudices you have toward a certain group of people and/or how those thoughts have influenced you in your day to day interactions with others. I would definitely recommend this book for others to read.
Did you read Small Great Things? What did you think? Did you like any of the characters? Can you identify with any of the characters? Have you ever encountered any sort of racism/prejudice? Have you displayed any racist behavior towards others? Did reading this book point a magnifying glass towards any thoughts/behaviors you've had in the past that you're not proud of? Would you recommend this book to someone? Why or Why not?
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