Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

smallgreatthingscoverOfficial Synopsis from Amazon: 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.

 Genre: Fiction, Courtroom Drama
Setting: Modern-day New Haven, Connecticut
My copy came from: I purchased the hardcover at Costco. I have a rule: if my husband makes me accompany him to Costco, I get to purchase a book.

Review: Dramatic, full of tension, and compulsively readable, Small Great Things is a good book. While I raced through the book to discover what would happen with Ruth’s court case, I felt the ending was tied up a bit too neatly.

Our main characters are Ruth, an African American nurse who was involved in caring for a newborn who died, Kennedy, the white public defender assigned to Ruth’s case, and Turk, the father of the newborn, and oh yeah, he’s also a white supremacist. The book is told from the point of view (POV) of each of these three characters.

As you can imagine, Turk’s chapters were incredibly difficult to read. His chapters are filled with hate speech and negative language, and I did not like reading his POV chapters. The viewpoint of a white supremacist was one I was not interested in reading or hearing from, and his chapters I really wanted to skip over. His chapters were so terrible that I almost stopped reading the book. Especially due to our current climate of hate in the US, I really wanted to set this book down and read something happy. But Ruth’s story kept calling to me, so I continued on.

It is amazing how you can look in a mirror your whole life and think you are seeing yourself clearly. And then one day, you peel off a filmy gray layer of hypocrisy, and you realize you’ve never truly seen yourself at all.

Ruth is a hardworking, experienced nurse whose nursing license is suspended due to her involvement in a case where a newborn dies. Told by her supervisor that she cannot attend the patient, due to the parents request due to her race, emergencies happen and she is left in charge on the floor when the newborn declines and she is the only one there. In that split second Ruth pauses, and the baby ends up dying. But was that due to Ruth’s hesitation or because of another underlying cause? This is the question the court case attempts to solve.

Along with a lot of medicine and medical terms, the big theme of this book is racism. And Jodi Picoult does not shy away from anything here. Uncomfortable, thought provoking, and upsetting, Small Great Things tackles racism head on and attempts to show things from both a black and white perspective. Both Ruth and Kennedy, her lawyer, are relatable and thoughtful. I appreciated both of their narratives and as a white woman, I came away from this book not as afraid to discuss race, as I was a bit hesitant to discuss it before, as I didn’t want to offend anyone. I now realize that by skirting the issue, far more damage is done than actually discussing it. So this was an eye-opening book for me in that regard.

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.

So, since I liked the book, and appreciated its message, why did I only rate it four stars on Goodreads instead of five? Well, I think the ending was tied up a bit too neatly, and I could’ve done without the POV of Turk. There were also some issues I had with the hospital administration and how their culpability was glossed over. I work in the healthcare industry (in an office clinic, not a hospital), and there were so many things that should’ve been handled differently by the hospital. But read this book for yourself, and make your own opinion! This would be an excellent discussion book for book clubs.

Bottom Line: Important and timely. Another page-turner from Jodi Picoult!

Links to Small Great Things on Amazon   and   Goodreads

My favorite Jodi Picoult book is still Leaving Time, a book that focuses on human grief and elephants. Read my review here!

Here’s a link to my review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americana: an interesting tale of race in America, narrated by Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who comes to America. Here’s the link to my review!

And I need to read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I actually had this book checked out from the library for almost a month and a half, but just didn’t have the time to get to it. I need to read this, and I need to read it sooner rather than later. Here’s the link to Between the World and Me on   Goodreads!

What is your favorite Jodi Picoult book? Will you read Small Great Things? Have you read it already? What did you think?


21 thoughts on “Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

  1. I’ve not read this- and I’m interested to see how Picoult handles this topic. I find it quite a surprise that she put something so controversial at the heart of this book- aka the baby dying- just because something like that adds so much moral ambiguity. It’s especially interesting that she chose to do that in a book which seems to be about anti-racism. I have to say it’s a bold choice- but having read Picoult’s other work I’m sure she will handle it sensitively!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The book does seem like it’d be great to read. And anything on the matter of prejudices has to be handled extremely well by the writer for it to be lapped up by the audience.
    Its nice to see that a book made you see and look at race differently.
    Terrific review.
    How many books for the year its been now?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard her name. Haven’t read though.
        89 is still an incredible number. You can sign out this year with 92-93 I guess. That’d still be a monstrous count. How many words? A million+?
        Oh, or maybe pick up some novellas and get to the magic number?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’d love to pick up some novellas and get that magic number! We’ll see! 🙂 I’ve got a few Christmas novellas lying around but haven’t felt inspired to pick them up.
          Goodreads says my page count is 32,294 – not sure how many words that translates to – a lot !!!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. The book handles this dilemma very well – she was told by her supervisor not to touch the baby or handle his care in any way. In healthcare, it is very important to follow orders, so I can totally see her dilemma here, which happened in a split second or two. She was forced to stop and think about acting because of a ridiculous patient request/supervisor order. Had the parents not complained or had the hospital taken a stand against racism, she wouldn’t have thought twice about stepping in immediately.
      One important issue I had was that the hospital administration did not have their employees back at all during this. The department was understaffed, and if the nurse was supposed to not take care of one patient, why was she left in charge of the floor with no one else around? There is an explanation for this but I wasn’t satisfied with it.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It was a murder case, so she was arrested and the DA was prosecuting. The book asks (and answers) a lot of questions! I enjoy how Picoult writes courtroom scenes. This would be a great discussion book because you can really dig into all of these questions about the court case, etc.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!
      I love Picoult’s writing – she has such a wonderful way of telling stories and bringing her characters to life. I haven’t read Change of Heart yet, but I have it on my shelf! I haven’t heard too much about Change of Heart, so I’m glad to hear that you liked it!

      Liked by 1 person

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