Small great things – a tough, good, and necessary book

Jodi Picoult has written a book that is necessary for today’s time – “Small great things.” She makes us confront our racism through a page-turning novel. The strange sounding title comes from Martin Luther King. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”

Telling a riveting story in first person through the eyes of three people, Picoult makes us confront our racism. She notes racism is more than prejudice, it is the systematic privilege that some don’t realize they have over those who realize they don’t have it on a daily basis.

Ruth, is a Black nurse with over twenty years of well-respected experience in neonatal care. Turk is a White Supremacist whose wife Brit has just given birth in the hospital where Ruth works. Kennedy is the attorney that Ruth will eventually need, a White public defender. Not giving too much of the plot away and gleaning from the back cover summary, Turk has Ruth removed from caring for them when her shift brings her to their room.

The baby later dies after complications following a circumcision, while Ruth was asked to sit in to monitor the baby as the White nurse was called away, since they were understaffed that morning. Ruth was asked not to provide care, but her oath makes her act to try and save the baby. Yet, she was conscious of this dilemma to act or not act and hesitates before acting. She is eventually accused of murder.

The first person story-telling offers insight into the mind of a White Supremacist. It is an interesting and unnerving experience. Yet, while Turk, his wife and her father show what overt racism looks like, through the lens of Ruth and Kennedy, we learn what passive racism look like, which is even more present in society.

I won’t give any more of the story away. The book reads more crisply as Picoult alters the first person telling from chapter to chapter. On a few occasions, she repeats what just happened through the eyes of another perspective. It allows you to invest in each character. You feel for the loss of any child as a parent, even if the parents are not ones you would agree with. You pull for Ruth, even though she will leave you frustrated, but part of that frustration is confronting the racism that lies in all of us even Kennedy.

If you have not read the book, I encourage you to do so. If you have, please let me know your thoughts below. For those who have not read it, you may want to stay away from the comments.

4 thoughts on “Small great things – a tough, good, and necessary book

    • Janis, thanks. I just finished it. My wife read it and I asked her if I would like it. She rightfully said it has some tough places to read. Getting underneath the hood of the white supremacist was scary, but also seeing everyday racism that Ruth endured was telling. Having her shopping bags checked by store security at the door, e.g. Keith

    • Mother Wintermoon, thanks. It is fiction, however, Picoult writes an Afterword saying she pulled a couple of true stories in her research, that framed the narrative, yet are different from the plot. Keith

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