Book Review: Small Great Things

Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Because of school and other stuff going on in my life, I have not only not had the time needed to be the reader I used to be, but I can’t sit still and focus long enough to finish a book. I was literally counting down the days until Jodi Picoult’s newest book came out. At last Small Great Things was finally available to us (in October I think) and I ran out to the store to get it. I was full of all this hope that Picoult’s most recent book was going to get me out of my slump and renew my reading obsession.

While Small Great Things didn’t jump start my obsession for reading, it did give me some much needed highs. I was all about this book for a couple weeks and then life got in the way and then a couple weeks ago I was on a plane and just powered through. Although this did not become my new favorite Picoult novel, I would put it at maybe fourth or fifth. To my dismay, I found this novel to be one of the most predictable novels she has ever written. I typically look forward to the crazy twist endings that always blow my mind, but I managed to guess the ending to this one fairly early, but that doesn’t mean her goal for writing this book was not achieved, because it was!

Small Great Things absolutely opened my eyes to the way I view race as well as the way I view racism in my own life. 

Without giving anything away – Small Great Things is a book about Ruth Jefferson, a black neonatal nurse in New England. One day, Ruth is assigned to a couple who has just given birth to a baby boy. Ruth goes in to tend to the family and to her dismay is not treated respectfully and is asked to get her superior. After the couple speaks to her supervisor, Ruth is taken off the case and a note is placed in the baby boy’s file saying no black employees may touch this child. Well Ruth is the only black employee at the hospital. Not too long later, the hospital is understaffed and the nurse who was assigned to the baby boy’s case has to rush to surgery for an emergency c-section, so she asks Ruth to watch over the baby boy after his circumcision expecting to be back ASAP. Unexpectedly, the baby boy goes into cardiac arrest and Ruth has to decide whether she is going to try and save his life or do what the note in his file requests. Ruth attempts to save his life, but the baby boy dies anyway. The couple blames Ruth and sues her. With the help of a white public defender, Ruth fights not only for her life, but for the truth to be heard and for race to play a factor in the courtroom.

Reading this book as a white person, I felt very self-aware and found myself becoming defensive at certain points, especially during the jury dury portion of the novel. Then I would feel guilty for feeling defensive. This novel forced me to be honest with myself about how I behave toward people who look different than me and understand that I become defensive because I may not purposely act this way. I related very closely with Kennedy, the white public defender, in respect to how she views herself in relation to people of a different race and her realization at the end of the novel also resonated with me. Ruth and Kennedy’s relationship/friendship was refreshing as well and provided me a few smiles, because it was very honest.

Bottom Line: I would definitely recommend this book, especially to white people. I feel that Picoult brings up some great points and food for thought on how we think about ourselves in regards to race. It is an eye-opener and I think it really benefited me and that it will definitely benefit others in helping us try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

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