Small Great Things
Small Great Things is a novel by Jodi Picoult published on 2016-10-11. The story is about a black nurse named Ruth who treats a newborn that dies, but the white supremacists parents accuse her of murder. The book is written in first-person perspective from the stand point of three different characters, the nurse, the racist father, and the nurse's attorney.
I learned about this book through a server at a restaurant I frequent. She really enjoyed it (and the previous works of the author), and, believing that I would love it too, lent me her copy.
I do not own this book, but I listened to the audio book recording and finished it on 2019-02-27.
— This section contains spoilers! —
- By jumping between the three main characters, it not only prevents the story from getting stale, but also shows each person's biased point of view, which is a nice touch.
- I like how Picoult humanizes the villain. Turk isn't a no-good racist just because he hates everyone who isn't also a white supremacist, he has a history and major people and events in his past that slowly turned him into a no-good racist. However, she also does a good job at making you hate him and his family.
- I also like how Ruth isn't perfect. Although she puts on a front of being a long-suffering do-gooder, she actually does hate Turk and would prefer his son dead rather than growing up as a white supremacist.
- It's nice that the author addresses the common "white savior" theme in race-related fiction.
- Ruth's attorney, Kennedy, constantly bumbles race relations. Like most people who grew up in a primarily white neighborhood, she doesn't understand how offensive it is to say cliche phrases like, "I don't see color," and, after seeing only a small amount of prejudice, "I get it now." This shows she's like most people who clearly don't get it, but also that her heart is in the right place.
- The author does a pretty good job at causing the reader to feel the indignation felt by Ruth for the "crime" of being black.
- I like how, once Kennedy becomes more aware of the harassment Ruth faces, her eyes are opened and she begins seeing institutional racism everywhere, even in children's cartoons.
- I appreciate one of the book's main points, that bringing up racism effectively guarantees a loss in court, not because it's doesn't exist, but because most people (judges and jury alike) don't want it to exist.
- I like that Howard actually points to evidence showing how people who think they can't possibily be racist are actually harder on black people because they overcompensate when they judge them.
- While I appreciate the novel, and found it to be important and eye-opening, I'm a bit disappointed that it's fiction. There are so many race-related stories throughout American history, I would prefer to read a real version of something like this rather than fiction.
- Things get a little slow in the middle of the book. It's interesting to learn how Ruth resorts to working fast food to make ends meet while her nursing license has been revoked, but it's far less interesting to learn about the ins-and-outs of cooking fries. I'm presuming the author's goal was to show that Ruth is methodical and meticulous no matter what she does, perfect qualities for a nurse, but I think it could have been done in a more interesting manner.
- Portions of the court room scenes are dull as well because there is a lot of repetition of what was already discussed at the beginning of the book.
- Some of the harassment Ruth sees, like when she's singled out at TJ Maxx even though she's shopping with a white woman, seems a bit forced. I don't deny that people of color face harassment all the time, but it's as though Picoult wanted to include every form of harassment people of color have to deal with in a single narrative.
- A couple of the court room scenes are pretty bad. When the cop says, "I guess it wasn't an accident," he's admitting that he believes Ruth is guilty before the trial even began, a huge no-no for law enforcement. Also, Odette Lawton's cross-examination of Ruth is several instances of her telling Ruth what she thought and felt, both of which should have been objected to by Kennedy immediately.
- Honestly, I never felt like Ruth was ever in any real trouble. Yes, Ruth had some easily misinterpreted comments and a few bad friends, but being accused of murdering an infant by a white supremacist who is openly hostile toward everyone who isn't also a white supremacist wouldn't likely result in a conviction even if there wasn't a likely medical reason for the infant's death. But, adding the obvious medical cause would have cinched it for any average jury.
- Although Picoult addresses the "white savior" theme, and adds Howard to the mix to correct some of Kennedy's ignorance, I don't think she does enough to make her book not fall into the same trope.
- The ending was a bit over-the-top. Brit is actually half-black and kills herself because of it and Turk flips to the opposite of racist with the flip of a page.