Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

This book is actually an excellent place to start for many of my white friends who would have a hard time saying “Black Lives Matter” out loud, especially considering the current events of the Charlottesville terrorist attack and the “free speech” rallies.

small great things mlk

Dr. King inspired the title and content of Jodi Picoult’s novel, Small Great Things. I read it at the beginning of the summer for a school book club, even though in full transparency, we never met to talk about it, so I’m processing some of these reflections here instead.

The story is in typical Picoult format, with three separate characters carrying the narration and switching off chapters: Ruth, Turk, and Kennedy.

Ruth is a labor and delivery nurse with over 20 years of experience, has a teenage son on the Honor Roll, and a husband who died serving his country in the U.S. Military. She also happens to be black.

Turk is a white supremacist who marries Brittany, whose father is a leader in the white supremacist movement. When they get pregnant and deliver their son, Ruth comes in as their assigned nurse. They complain to the hospital requesting that no African American personnel touch their son, and the hospital grants the request.

When Ruth ends up in an impossible situation due to being short-staffed, she is left alone in a room with this newborn when he goes into cardiac arrest after his circumcision. She hesitates in performing CPR, knowing she isn’t permitted to touch him, and his parents sue her.

Kennedy is a public defender with an eye doctor husband, a young daughter, a nice home, and good intentions. She gets assigned to Ruth’s case.

I won’t tell you much more so I don’t give anything away.

I read a review by Roxane Gay, for The New York Times, and I think her perspective as a woman of color is essential- this book does not have much to offer people of color. However, many of the white women I know might really find themselves relating to Kennedy. And I’m pleased that she does a lot of learning, even if it is later in her life.

I think of Picoult’s writing as beach-reads and airport bookstore suggestions, but I don’t regret reading this story. It’s an important introduction to our world of prejudice, hatred, racism, and unfair systems. So if you aren’t sure where you fall into this national conversation on race that has been and will keep happening, I recommend it to you.



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