Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
It has been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book. I’m pretty particular about which ones I review. They have to make me have strong feelings in one way or another. Sometimes I may have gotten some lesson that I think needs to be shared or I just think it’s something people would appreciate. Small Great Things did all of those.
So first a quick synopsis. Ruth Jefferson is a Black labor and delivery nurse who gets kicked off the case of a newborn who’s parents are white supremacists. When the baby dies after a routine medical procedure, there is no question who will be blamed: Ruth. The novel tells the story of the trial from the perspectives of Ruth, her public defender, and the baby’s father. Each of them is dramatically changed from the experience as you would expect but they also change in ways you don’t expect.
Now if you didn’t catch the subtlety…a BLACK nurse is accused of killing a WHITE baby whose parents are white supremacists. To top it off, the public defender in the case is an upper middle class white woman going against a black female prosecutor. Of course, racism is the central theme of the novel. I was worried that a book about racism, written by a white woman with a white supremacist as one of the main characters was going to be hard to read but I was pleasantly surprised and absolutely loved this book. Not only is the story riveting but seeing what each character learns is probably the best part.
Although I related most to Ruth being the educated, hardworking and strong black female that she was, I was most pleased with the character of the public defender: Kennedy. As a public defender, Kennedy is thrown cases with black defendants daily. When she gets Ruth’s case, her first murder trial, she wants to treat it like all the others: focus on the facts, don’t bring up race. Ruth challenges her and remains adamant that she would not even be on trial if she were white. Kennedy, like many people, was uncomfortable with addressing racism. She feared that bringing it up in the courtroom would isolate the jury, upset the judge and ultimately tank their case. As the two build a friendship, Ruth highlights the treatment she faces daily as a Black woman. She and Kennedy live in the same neighborhood, shop at the same stores, eat at similar restaurants, but their daily experiences are drastically different. Even though this makes Kennedy uncomfortable, she makes the decision to let her discomfort be productive and teach her about her privilege and blind spots as a white woman. Kennedy comes to understand that to be the best lawyer she can be for Ruth and her future clients, she must address her privilege and work as a white ally to help reform a very broken justice system.
I respect Jodi Picoult for writing this type of character. In her author’s note, she mentions that to write this book, she had to do extensive research which forced her to look at her own privilege, much like Kennedy, and do her best to understand the situations that Black people face. She even provided receipts in the form of a bibliography at the end of the book! This made me so happy because you can tell this goes beyond another best-selling novel for her. People like to pretend that we live in a post-racial society because we had a Black president for 8 years and that must count for something. They like to act as if working on the premise “color-blindness” is productive. But what these people fail to realize is that racism is thriving, they are just shielded from it because of their privilege. They can buy “flesh colored” bandages and other products that claim to be “nude” and have them match their skin tone without a special order. They don’t have to raise their children to be wary of police officers in fear that they may not come home after an encounter with them. It’s a sad truth but the truth nonetheless. I really appreciate an author committed to getting the facts, exposing the system and encouraging others to do the same.
This is a great contrast to the white supremacist character, Turk. I must admit that I was pretty annoyed with the white supremacist perspective being included in the novel but I appreciated it in the end if only for the INSANE twist it provided. Picoult extensively researched white supremacist groups and how they operate today. It may have been exaggerated for the novel but the whole idea these days is to hide in plain sight. They are not all hood-wearing KKK members anymore but people you interact with on a regular basis, like your next-door neighbor and the mechanic who fixes your car, who are doing whatever they can to create Aryan warriors 🙄😒. I’m glad that Turk sees the light in the end though because of course the character needed some redeeming value. Picoult based the character off real-life white supremacists who abandoned the Movement and now teach about how destructive that kind of thinking can be. Snaps for that.
Ruth, obviously the central character, was beautifully written as well. I loved that even in the face of adversity she remained steadfast in her beliefs and was determined to pass that on to her son so he could become an educated and well-respected Black man. Rather than push Kennedy away like she really wanted to, she took the time to bring her into her life and make her realize what was truly important in the case: not getting her job back or suing the hospital or proving her innocence but the fact that she was treated unfairly because of the color of her skin. She was brave, despite struggle being all around her and was the epitome of the strong black woman.
Overall 5/5 stars. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Read this immediately you guys, it is much needed in these trying times!
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