Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
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.
Before I actually talk about the book itself, I have to say that if you are a person of color who has ever been on the receiving end of racism or you consider yourself an ally to POC, then I highly recommend this book. If you want to be an ally but haven’t quite figured out the best way to see situations from someone else’s point of view then you should also read this. If you read this and you aren’t moved by it then…..well, you could be a part of the problem.
Jodi Picoult did an amazing job with this story. As a white woman she admitted that it was difficult but the reason that she succeeded is because she listened to people with experiences different from her own. After all, that’s what being an ally is about.
This story is incredibly compelling from beginning to end. There’s always something that comes up that you weren’t expecting. At the same time, it’s all of it is very real.
Addressing white supremacy in America is so rare, because no one wants to admit that it still exists in some places. The relationship between Turk and Brittany Bauer and their reaction to Ruth is a good example of that. What a lot of people don’t realize is that their reaction could also be given by someone who doesn’t think that they’re racist but has some unconscious biases.
Kennedy is a good example of someone who has to be exposed to her privileges to realize that they’re there, because she’s never had to think about them before. so while she thinks she’s a good ally before she meets Ruth, she realizes that she isn’t. In fact, she was someone who thought that saying that she “didn’t see race” was inclusive. It’s not. If you don’t get why…that’s privilege. Luckily, Kennedy learns her lesson and understands the difference between thinking you’re an ally and actually being one.
Turk is literally the epitome of racism and homophobia in America. He hates anyone who isn’t like him. This really isn’t uncommon but many people either downplay it or ignore it altogether. Of course Jodi Picoult is infamous for her plot twists so when she revealed that Brittany was half black, I literally started talking out loud, like to the book. The thing is, he accepted it. While the characters are based off of real people (more or less) I feel that his response was less likely to happen in real life.
I’m pretty sure that I have never been able to relate to a character as much as I can relate to Ruth. What many people don’t realize or acknowledge is that as a person of color you are forced to defy so many stereotypes and even if you do, someone will still view you as a statistic. This is a fact. I have lived through this my entire life. No one expects me to read as much as I do, to have been at the top of my class in high school, to have been the only student in my entire class that took all AP classes straight through (I was a head of everyone in the class before mine), or to have gone to such a prestigious four-year college. People don’t expect that from me. Instead people are more likely to think high school drop out or community college and teen mom.
There were a lot of feelings in this book that Jodi Picoult accurately displayed to expose racism in America:
- Having your intelligence questioned because no one actually expects you to be that smart
- Being told, “we can be friends, but I can’t date you” *this is not ‘just a preference’ it’s racist.
- Being overlooked by white counterparts
- Having to attempt to explain the impact of racism to white people, who instead of trying to actually understand it, justify someone else’s racism
- Being called an “Oreo” because you don’t fit into a box
- Being told that you “sound white” because you speak proper English
- Hearing a white person say that they “don’t see race” because they think it’s inclusive when it’s really not
- Hearing someone ask “why isn’t there a white history month” as if white history isn’t what we learn every month outside of Black History Month
- Someone claiming to be a victim of reverse racism and not realizing how stupid they sound
- Knowing that you can’t show emotion or be passionate because sadness and excitement will automatically be viewed as anger and you will suddenly become the “angry black woman” even when you’re not angry
- Having something incredibly important that you say ignored because it made someone “uncomfortable” Seriously. If me talking about racism makes you uncomfortable but racism itself doesn’t….you’re the problem
This book is literally my new favorite. As a feminist and a woman of color from a lower middle class background I cannot stress enough how important this book is to me. If you get the chance, please read it.
5 out of 5 stars.
For those of you who don’t know, Jodi Picoult is my favorite author of all time so I was over the moon when I tweeted her about this and she responded! 🙂
Next I will be reading Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.