Thank You to Random House Publishing Group- Ballantine for providing me with an advanced copy of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Small Great Things, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT - Ruth Jefferson is a highly regarded labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years of experience, and an Ivy League education. She is also a widow, raising her honor student teenage son, after her husband died during active military duty.
During one of her shifts, Ruth is assigned to the Bauer family: Brittany and Turk have just had a baby boy, Davis. When Ruth meets the Bauer's and attempts to examine Davis, she is met with a cold response and a request to see her supervisor. The problem? Ruth is black and the Bauer's are white supremacists. A note goes on Bauer's file, that the family requests no African-Americans touch their baby.
A few days later, the hospital staff is strapped and Ruth is left to monitor Davis after a routine circumcision. She was only needed for a few minutes and nothing should have gone wrong, until it did. Davis goes into cardiac arrest under Ruth's watch and shortly after his death, Ruth is arrested. Did her anger towards the Bauers cause her to harm their baby? Or did her hesitation to help Davis, based on the note in his file, hasten his death? A baby is dead, who is to blame?
Kennedy McQuarrie is assigned as Ruth's public defender. Kennedy's instinct is to leave race out of the trial, which is a slap in the face to Ruth. Can Ruth make Kennedy see race through her eyes and lead Kennedy to truly speak on Ruth's behalf?
LIKE- I'm a fan of Picoult, primarily because she writes complex moral dilemma stories, forcing readers to look for different angles. In Small Great Things, the best moral moment isn't when the baby dies, but when the note is first placed in his file. It forces the reader to think, what would you do? Would you stand up for your colleague? What would the repercussions be? No one stands up in the hospital, because it is easier to just keep Ruth separate from the Bauer's. Easy doesn't mean it's right, is one ofthe over arching theme of Small Great Things.
Picoult creates very strong, memorable characters. Although the story is told from the perspective of many characters ( Kennedy and Turk), Ruth's voice rises above the others. This is her story. What's devastating is watching everything she has worked so hard to obtain; professional achievements, financial security, and her integrity, get stripped away from her; just the idea of these achievements being so fragile and precious. In the afterword, Picoult explains her difficulties and apprehensions in writing about race and that this book is aimed towards white Americans ( I suspect her audience base is primarily middle-aged/middle-class/white women). To that end, yes, I think this book was aimed at a reader like me, as I fit into that demographic.. It's a call to think about our position of privilege and how we should stand with our friends who don't have that privilege. What if all of the white nurses, who count themselves as Ruth's friend, had stood up to the Bauer's request? Certainly the trajectory of the story would have been completely different, but on another level, it would have been a scenario where Ruth would have felt included as a fellow friend and nurse, rather than separate and different.
DISLIKE- Small Great Things is cliche and obvious. I was never surprised by the direction of the story and even groaned with a few of the twists. In particular, Brittany's ending was extremely groan-worthy. It was unnecessary and detracting. Picoult uses Kennedy it hammer in the themes a little too hard. I found Kennedy a difficult character to connect with, although I think she is supposed to represent most readers, the white liberal who tries to be understanding, but gets a lot wrong. Kennedy starts out assuming more than she listens, which of course is her personal growth trajectory during of the story.
RECOMMEND- Yes. I didn't feel that Small Great Things was Picoult's strongest book, but I'm sure many would disagree. It's certainly high with emotion and an important topic, especially now in America. As with many of Picoult's novels, Small Great Things, would be an ideal bookclub or classroom pick, lending itself perfectly to group discussions.