So I’ve been sitting on this review for a week or two because I actually had tickets to see Jodi Picoult speak. Her talk and the book signing wasn’t until tonight and I didn’t want to write my review until I’d seen her. I live-blogged the talk on the Tinted Edges Facebook page and I have to say, she is WOKE. I managed to ask her about her thoughts on the ridiculous White Lives Matter counter-movement to Black Lives Matter while she was signing my book and she was very well informed and very eloquent. Anyway, “Small Great Things” is her newest book and I got an advanced reading copy from Harry Hartog.
“Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult takes a real life event, where a black nurse in the USA was looking after a baby in a postnatal ward was told by the white supremacist father that people like her couldn’t touch the baby, to an extreme conclusion: what if the baby goes into distress and the nurse disregards her superior’s instructions and tries to help? When the baby dies, Ruth finds herself in the centre of a medical negligence matter. White public defender Kennedy takes on her case having represented many other black defendants. However it’s not until Kennedy meets Ruth that she begins to really see some of the more subtle prejudice that is inherent in American society. Some of it is her own.
I’ve quite a few of Picoult’s books and although she never shies away from hard-hitting issues, none of them have touched me before like this one has. As Picoult herself wrote for Time Magazine, this isn’t a book for people of colour. This is a book for white people to encourage them to think about and talk about issues concerning race. There are so many points in the book where Kennedy says something that is well-intentioned but the impact on Ruth is actually tantamount to a micro-aggression. Kennedy just ploughs through the awkwardness. However, when we don’t talk about race, we conveniently don’t have to think about how things we say can actually be condescending, minimising and even erasing of people’s experiences. Picoult captures that sinking feeling, one in my own ignorance and naiveté I have felt many times, when you mean well but say the wrong thing. She lingers on that feeling, the uncomfortableness of it, and doesn’t let us glaze over and keep going. In this book we have to examine the impact of our words and actions and that is a powerful and educational thing. In terms of story, it is the classic Picoult archetype. There’s a controversial issue, a court case and a twist. That didn’t bother me so much in this book, because court is the time where you get to say your piece and that is a critical element of the story. However I did feel a little bit like the ending was too tidy. Life isn’t tidy, race isn’t tidy and the way (especially given recent political events) race is handled politically is definitely not tidy at all.
I think that this is definitely a book worth reading. It’s a great story, it is impeccably researched and very well considered, and I feel like it is a huge leap forward in terms of empathy and mutual understanding. The timing of this book couldn’t be better.