“You say you don’t see color…but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.”
I should know this by now. Reading a Jodi Picoult novel is asking for something to punch you in the gut, make you question everything, and probably make you cry. I definitely had this experience while reading Small Great Things, there is no question. It was a rollercoaster from start to finish.
Small Great Things is about Ruth Jefferson, who has been a labour and delivery nurse for 20 years. One morning she goes into the room of new parents Turk and Brit Bauer to do a routine newborn screening on their son, Davis. However, Turk and Brit are also white supremacists and request no African Americans, including Ruth, touch their son. However Ruth later finds herself watching over Davis because of another medical emergency in the hospital, when Davis has one of his own. When Davis dies, a question is thrown into the air: did Ruth intentionally cause his death?
This book covers the events leading up to Davis’ death as well as forays into the past as Ruth’s trial, where she is represented by a white public defender, Kennedy McQuarrie. As you might expect, the trial is a tense one, particularly as people disagree on whether or not to bring the topic of race and racism into the courtroom.
This book does not shy away from the topic of race, particularly as it applies to the court system. I cannot count how many ways this book could have gone wrong. Even though I love Jodi’s other works, I honestly was just waiting for the point in which it would all go wrong.
But I found this book has made me think a lot more than I thought it would. It made me uncomfortable, but this was not because of the writing quality. No, some parts were so good I actually felt like the characters were talking to me. Like I was on the jury in that courtroom.
Small Great Things has definitely opened my eyes. I would say opened them more than they were, which perhaps is true, but it has also made me question a lot of things. I loved this book and I really believe everyone, whether they are an avid reader or not, should read it. For those who come from a place of privilege, it will very likely make you question things.
I could talk for a long time about Small Great Things and how it is shifting the way I think, but that would also require spoilers for some of the most dramatic, revealing, intense moments in the book.
Now, I know Small Great Things is not perfect. There is part of it I think, after reading everything else, seems a little far-fetched in my mind, but I still firmly believe this book has a lot of good information.
If you do choose to read it, I really urge you to let me know what you think. Did the closing arguments of the trial change your thinking? Did you feel like you were a member of the jury? What part stood out the most? Do you have any other thoughts? Let me know!
Title: Small Great Things
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine Books (Penguin Random House)