Saturday, October 15, 2016

Small Great Things

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Random House Group: 10/11/16
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345544957

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 at 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 arrested.

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.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

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