Book Reviews

Review: Small Great Things By Jodi Picoult


Published: October 11th 2016 by Ballantine Book

Source: Local Library

Format: Hardcover

Page Count: 470

Genre: Adult, Literary Fiction, Contemporary

Synopsis: 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. 


Spoiler Free Review: 

As a person of color and a Muslim, white privilege is something I witness on a day to day basis. It’s rare to find a white person in real life that acknowledges their privilege and the struggles of different minorities. I’m glad to say that Jodi Picoult took the initiative to write a story on white supremacy, on the life of a black woman and her adversities. Racism still exists. And the scary part is, what happened in Small Great Things could potentially happen in real life and it is terrifying. Jodi Picoult brought saw a raw authentic story and it honestly couldn’t have been done better. 

So if I could sum up one emotion I was feeling while reading this book, it would be anger. There was just so much pent up rage I had on how Ruth was being treated, Turk, the white supremacist and how twisted his beliefs were. Kennedy and her oblivious to so much of what black people face on a daily basis. I was a little hesitant going into this book, since it is written by a white woman, I wasn’t sure how Jodi Picoult would tackle all of these issues. But she ended up doing all of them justice. 

In particular, I noticed something I like to call subtle racism. It’s when a white person subconsciously (maybe) says a racist remark and it’s very subtle. The irony is that it isn’t subtle at all. To a person of color, it’s smack in your face blatant. I saw many examples of that and I’m impressed that the author decided to include it. 

Active racism is telling a nurse supervisor that an African American nurse can’t touch your baby. It’s snickering at a black joke. But passive racism? It’s noticing there’s only one person of color in your office and not asking your boss why. It’s reading your kid’s fourth-grade curriculum and seeing that the only black history covered is slavery, and not questioning why. It’s defending a woman in court whose indictment directly resulted from her race…and glossing over that fact, like it hardly matters.” 

There are three perspectives, Ruth, the black labor nurse that was accused, Turk, the white supremacist that convicted Ruth, Kennedy, the white public defender. I wasn’t expecting to be reading from Turk’s perspective, but it was interesting to be inside his mind. Even if it is a twisted basket of deplorables. Kennedy was your “I don’t see color” white woman who tries very hard to not be racist. Kennedy’s character development was interesting, it took a while to finally recognize where Ruth was coming from and how it was to be a black woman. 

“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.”

Ruth began as a very quiet, polite woman. She recognized how she was treated differently from her mostly white neighborhood, but accepted it for the most part. Throughout the story, she began to come out of her shell and recognize what needed to change. I loved her character, her intelligence and congeniality, she was an amazing mother and person. Honestly, I would love to meet someone as brave as Ruth. 

Highlight for spoiler: My main, minor issue with this book was the ending. I really wanted more of a closure to the story. Additionally, I wasn’t sure how exactly Turk dropped out of the white supremacist groups. It was just glossed over and wasn’t explained very well. I also wanted to know where exactly Ruth was in her life, instead of a little sneak peek. Also, I’m so glad that Edison went to Yale and that he’s succeeding. 😀

Overall, this was one of the bravest stories I’ve ever read. I’m so glad that Jodi Picoult took the initiative to speak up about white privilege and the oppression of black people. It takes courage and she proved to the world how people can do “small things in a great way.”

Rating: 4.75/5


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