Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Small Great Things

Title:  Small Great Things
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2016. 480 pages.
ISBN:  0345544951 / 978-0345544957

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The miracle happened on West Seventy-Fourth Street, in the home where Mama worked."

Favorite Quote:  "What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn't fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven't been able to change the puzzle instead?"

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote is the inspiration behind the title of this book. Jodi Picoult has a well deserved reputation for taking on serious human issues, often the ones being talked about in the press. This book is no different; it tackles the conversation about race, prejudice, and the justice system.

The main cast of characters are a Black nurse, a white supremacist family who are focused in their hatred, and a white public defender who would never ever consider herself prejudiced or racist. Around them, you have families and communities who each hold fast to their views.

The story is that Ruth Jefferson is a Yale nursing school graduate with over twenty years of experience as a Labor and Delivery nurse; she is also the only Black nurse in her unit. Turk and Brittany Bauer are a young couple awaiting the birth of their first child; they hold white supremacist beliefs who do not want the birth or their child attended by a person of color. They equate their demand to a customer service request no different that a woman wanting a female doctor. The hospital complies, and Ruth is removed from the case. A crisis occurs, and Ruth is accused of a terrible crime. Kennedy McQuarrie is the public defender assigned to the case. Battle lines are drawn on a much larger scale even though all Ruth wants to do is defend herself, protect her son, and live her life.

Surrounding this main plot line are others that all carry on the same conversation about race and prejudice. Ruth's mother has been a maid for the same white family for most of Ruth's life; a closeness exists but the lines are clear. Ruth moved her family to a new, mostly white neighborhood to give her son a chance at a better education. Her son Edison goes to a school, where the color of his skin separates him from most who surround him. Ruth believes that race does not matter and that people see the person not the color; her sister takes a different path. Turk and Brittany portray the background of being taught certain things about race from the day you are born and what happens if those beliefs are ever called into question. Kennedy McQuarrie is a public defender by passion and belief in doing the right thing. Kennedy's mother is Southern belle who grew up being taught certain views. The same conversation comes through in this book from so many different directions.

At the beginning of the book, I am not sure. I am not sure Jodi Picoult is the author to tell this story. I see the stereotypes appear in the characters, and this conversation needs to be about breaking stereotypes; I am not sure. By the middle, I think I know where the book is going, but I hope not; I am not sure the ending I am envisioning will move this conversation forward. Meanwhile, I am furiously reading as I tend to do with Jodi Picoult books because I want to see where she takes the conversation. Be prepared. This is not an easy book to read. It will make you uncomfortable, and it will make you think about your own views and prejudices. I think that's the point.

By the end, the questions are answered - why she wrote the book and why certain characters appear as stereotypes. Make sure you read the author's note with the book for Jodi Picoult writes about how and why this book came to be and how and why she feels able to tell the story. The book is not perfect, of course; some of the twists and changes at the end, particularly the epilogue, feel a little contrived and too neatly packaged. However, this book accomplishes its purpose to keep the conversation moving. It holds true to the quote that is its inspiration. This is a fictional story that may perhaps contribute in a small way to great change.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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