Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Random House Group: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 480 pages
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is a very highly recommended novel that targets race and prejudice.
For over twenty years Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse
a Connecticut hospital. During the beginning of her shift she is
assigned to the room where the mother has just had the baby. Ruth enters
the room and begins the routine checkup on the newborn when the father
demands to speak to her supervisor. The parents, the Bauer's, who have
the newborn are avowed white supremacists and do not want a black person
in their room. Ruth is taken off the case and a post-it note is left in
their file saying that no African-American is to touch their child.
Ruth is the only nurse on staff that this note would apply to, but she
complies and moves on with her day.
The next day every other nurse on staff is assisting with an emergency
c-section and Ruth is left alone in the nursery. When the Bauer's baby
goes into cardiac
distress, Ruth must decide if she should follow her training and
natural instinct to try and save the baby or if she should follow the
orders to not touch this child. When the charge nurse enters and orders
Ruth to assist her in trying to save the baby's life, Ruth follows
orders, doing compressions for CPR as a whole team rushes in to help.
Unknowingly, the parents also rush into the room. After the child dies
they claim Ruth was purposefully beating on the chest of their baby
trying to kill him. Murder charges end up being filed and Ruth is
The narrative is told through three different viewpoints: Ruth; Turk
Bauer, the white supremacist; and Kennedy McQuarrie, the white public
defender. Despite Ruth's objections, Kennedy advises Ruth that they need
to keep race out of her trial because it is not a winning strategy. The
novel was inspired by a real event in which a white supremacist
father refused to allow an experienced African-American labor and
delivery nurse to touch his newborn.
In my opinion, the novel could have been stronger if told through
Kennedy's viewpoint, one that would basically be Picoult's, and reflect
her enlightenment to racial profiling and white privilege as the case
unfolded. It would have allowed a more natural realization of how white
privilege is a part of her world every day. The ending is a wee bit too
pat and positive, with issues nicely settled, to be a reflection of the
real world, but it is nice to have a solid ending.
I was annoyed by one small part, when Ruth, who has taken a fast food
job, doesn't want Kennedy to think of her as someone who would work at
that job if she had any other choice. Um, lots of people have service
jobs and not all of them are teenagers. Lots of people have taken jobs
for which they are over qualified. Sometimes life happens no matter what
your racial background. There is no shame in working. I wouldn't have
my current management position if I hadn't taken a part time retail
position for a little extra income.
In the end, it has to be noted that Picoult is an incredible, exceptional writer. She takes her gift for
capturing characters and always tackles a controversial issue in her
novels. Book groups should love Small Great Things and the
discussions it will spark. While she may have had a few missteps with
this one for me, I'm giving her full points for the discussion, and all
the discussions it should inspire (including mine above.) Additionally,
Picoult held my attention from the beginning to the end in this page
turner. 4.5, rounding up to 5.
My advanced reading copy was courtesy
of the publisher/author.