New York Times-bestseller Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is a fascinating novel about an African-American labor and delivery nurse, Ruth Jefferson, who works in a mostly white neighborhood in Connecticut. Ruth comes from a poor family and grew up as one of the only African-Americans in her neighborhood who graduated with a professional degree. Ruth, now a widow of a veteran and mother of a smart teenager named Edison, works long hours to pay for his elite education. After almost twenty years of experience as a nurse, she encounters a troublesome family. Ruth does a routine check-up on a newborn of a white supremacist family that was anger that an African-American touched their child. The parents demand she not touch their baby, Davis Bauer. When the baby falls ill and passes, the family accuses Ruth of killing Davis and sues her. Ruth has her medical license revoked and fights to get her licenses back. The book shares her personal struggles and her public fight for African-Americans all over America, showing how racism exists, and proving that she was only accused because of her race. This novel highlights important and deep rooted issues including race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion, all of which resonate today.
Jodi Picoult has a unique writing style in Small Great Things. Picoult paints a vivid picture. She uses flashbacks to helps the reader understand the character’s back story. At one point, Ruth invites her caucasian attorney, Kennedy, to go shopping. While shopping, Ruth is followed around by a security guard and is asked for her ID before leaving. Kennedy gains insight into Ruth’s experiences as an African American woman living in a white society. Kennedy is struck with empathy and develops a stronger desire to fight for Ruth’s cause. I too had a realization when reading of how blatantly racist our society can be. A simple trip to the store can be uncomfortable and complicated for others simply because of their skin color. This moment in the novel demonstrates how powerful “little things” can affect someone’s life. Shockingly, Kennedy discovers an unlikely piece of evidence that uncovers the truth and changes everyone’s fate. When Kennedy finds this information, we see her empathy, compassion and loyalty to Ruth. I found this intriguing and was thankful for the unexpected turn of events. Before the end of the trial, Edison tries to protect his mother and ends up in jail, showing his unconditional love and his willingness to risk his college bound future. The deep love he shows for his mother is relatable for me and possibly other readers.
The novel delves into important topics that are relevant today such as racism and white supremacy loosely connecting to events from this year, including the recent tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. This story raises awareness to the many people who do not understand what it is like to be in Ruth’s position and do not face the everyday challenges which she and other African Americans may experience. It demonstrates how people of color or other minorities are marginalized, and though all loose ends were tied up in the novel, in reality this may not have had lasting effect on society. I recommend this page-turning novel because and it was interesting to hear more than one person’s perspective on the various issues presented. I feel that this book is best suited for anyone from young adults to adults.
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books, 2016. Buy the book here.
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