Ever since I finished this book I have been in a book hangover. Not one book has gripped me this week as much as this book did. I started this on a Wednesday and finished it on Saturday. This is the first Jodi Picoult novel I have ever read and I can safely say that after reading Small Great Things: I am going for the back catalogue!
Picoult’s protagonist, Ruth, is a labour and delivery nurse and she is fantastic at her job. Brilliant. Amazing, in fact. Until one day, she is told that a couple do not want her looking after their son. This is down to pure racism. Ruth is black. The parents are members of the White Power society. Then an unfortunate event occurs which results in the baby dying whilst in Ruth’s care. A criminal case is launched with civil cases in the hanging and Ruth’s astounding career, honour roll son and sheer ‘protected’ existence is thrown into a whirlwind.
I won’t give away the story as there are some wonderful twists and turns within it however, I will explain what is so touching about this story. A baby has died. That in itself is sad enough. His parents are racists, homophobes: any prejudice you could have – they have. However, throughout the story, you empathise with the mother and the father and see the love between the two. Picoult’s ability not to villainize these two characters is something quite special.
The pace of this story is wonderfully fast. Everything that happens: happens quickly. The reader cannot help but be swept away with the story. The way that Picoult describes a scene through different character’s perspectives allows the reader to have a panoramic view the thoughts and feelings of the time. It creates depth and understanding. The reader struggles not to empathise with each character.
Above all, this story deals with the issue of passive racism. Whilst there are those in the world who suffer from active racism every day which the average person would shout out about – there are twice as many, maybe as thrice as many who suffer passive racism which for those who do not suffer such, cannot speak out against it as they cannot see it. This is so aptly summarised in Picoult’s opening quote from Benjamin Franklin “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”. There could not be a more appropriate quote for the tone and subject matter of this novel.
Picoult’s afterword touches on her fear of writing about racism. She need not have feared. This novel is beautifully written, there are no signs of preaching or forcing the reader to consider matters in a certain way. She truly has achieved a Small Great Thing in this novel particularly in highlighting how “ignorance is a privilege too“.
I would love to hear about Picoult’s earlier works – have you read any of them? Did you enjoy them? What would you recommend I pick up next?
Recommended for: those who love a gripping story with twists and turns.
Favourite quote: “every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!