Small Great Things: a reflection

I'm not usually a single-post book review kind of person, but when I tried to add this into one of my regular book review recaps, it was way too long because I had too much to say. I'll start by saying I've never read anything by Jodi Picoult. Last year I started one of her books but couldn't get into it, so I figured she just wasn't for me. I'd also heard her books always have a common theme of being super sad, so that was also a deterrent.
Last year I saw quite a few people review Small Great Things and the synopsis sounded right up my alley.

If you're lost and have no idea what the book is about, here's part of the synopsis:
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years' experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she's been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don't want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy's counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other's trust, and come to see that what they've been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

I started this on a Friday night and made it a little over 100 pages and didn't think I was going to be able to finish it. It was exhausting to read and I wasn't sure I wanted to read something so heavy on every single page. We all lived through 2016, we know hate groups are a real thing. A person seen as too racist to be a federal judge is our President's choice for attorney general.

I decided to skip to the end and read the author's note and it completely changed my mind about the book. It didn't make it any easier to read, but it reminded me why it was important. The first thing that caught my attention was that Ruth's story was actually inspired by a real case at the hospital where I was born, but more importantly Picoult acknowledges her white privilege and explains why she wanted to write this book, knowing the risk she was taking.

The story moved quickly and the writing was captivating as you're introduced to the different characters (the POV switches in each chapter between Ruth, Kennedy, & Turk). I could quickly see why so many people are big Picoult fans. In the first part of the book I wasn't crazy about the storylines with Ruth's sister or Kennedy's mom. I know they were purposeful to Picoult in showing further dimensions of racial inequalities, assumptions, and passive racism, but with so much already going on, I didn't think it was necessary and it felt forced.

The second part of the story is when the trial begins and I was so relieved to hear Kennedy finally address all of the things that had been overlooked with Ruth being unfairly blamed for the baby's death. I was infuriated with Ruth's co-worker and supervisor, and until that point it saddened me that no one was questioning their competence. The parts with the trial read extremely quickly and then there were two things that happened towards the ending that left me frustrated with the novel (i'll leave out to avoid spoilers, but if you've read this, I'd love to know your thoughts if you know what I'm referring to).

While this wasn't even a five-star book for me, I'd still recommend it. In the author's note Picoult says that one of the reasons she wrote the book because the things that make us uncomfortable are often the things that teach us, and I couldn't agree more. For me, as a white person, it was also a great reminder that staying silent about things is a privilege, and it's so important to stand up for what is right. I know I fall short sometimes, but I think that's part of the reason it was so important for me to share my feelings about this book.

17 comments

  1. I read the synopsis you shared and I can already see how heavy & emotionally charged this book would be. Adding it to my list for sure! xo, Biana - BlovedBoston

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  2. This book sounds super interesting. I actually have one of her books on my nightstand that my mom gave me to read like a year ago. Now you have me wanting to check and see if it's this book!

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  3. I actually skipped pretty much this entire post because this book is sitting on my bookshelf, impatiently waiting for me to finish up everything else I'm working on on my Kindle. I've read almost every book of hers so I sort of know what to expect—pretty much, no sleep and lots of tears until I read every page in less than 2 days. I can't wait to read it!

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  4. Oh I need to read this - This is the second time this book was recommended to me! I agree with you that it's been exhausting politically but I think that's all the more reason to read more books like this. Thanks! :]

    xo Deborah
    Coffee, Prose, and Pretty Clothes

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  5. Oh wow this book is intense! Love that it takes place in CT - that's where I grew up. I need to add this to my list <3
    Green Fashionista

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  6. I've never read any of her books so I'm not sure if this is the place to start, but wow. Very intense. Things have been so bad lately but I could definitely use a reminder of my privilege. I need to be more cognizant of it. You've definitely piqued my interest.

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  7. a great review chica. i am not sure if i've read any of her books and now i need to research out of curiosity. i feel like this could be an emotional read for sure!

    xoxo cheshire kat

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  8. I'm hoping to read this someday when I feel prepared for it emotionally - which is not yet. I have yet to read any of her books, actually, but I think I might go for this one first!! So glad you enjoyed it even though it was hard to read. I will do the same as you and read the author's note!!

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  9. I've had this book since October and haven't read it yet. I am not prepared. I did see Jodi speak about it and what she said really stuck with me - we have to talk about race. We have to be uncomfortable.

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  10. I'm not typically a JP fan either, but this story premise does sound interesting and if anything, enlightening. Thanks for your honest review!

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  11. I haven't read any Picoult books either, but I kept on hearing so many great things about Small Great Things. I feel like we really do need those books that will help us to think about or look at situations differently.

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  12. Sorry if this posts twice...

    This is a hard read, for sure, especially in the current climate of our country. But what an amazing, amazing book. One of Jodi's best.

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  13. i absolutely loved this book, and I'm glad you went back and finished it.

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  14. This was a hard book for me to read too. I was so pissed with the people that Ruth worked with as well. It was my first from this author and I have another one of her books sitting here that I grabbed a few months ago from the thrift store that I need to get on. I just know it will probably be a heavier read again and I want to be ready for it.

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  15. I don't know if I could read this book right now. Life is so infuriating at the moment both nationally and personally, I'd probably just be pissed all day long, haha!

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  16. i got scared for a second that you didn't finish it, but i'm so glad you read the author's note (wasn't it so... beautiful/powerful?) and you are so right 'it reminded me why it was important'. it totally made me look at myself and how i thought i was doing okay or at least not bad, and i realised how wrong i was, you know? like staying silent or saying 'i don't even see race' - i definitely felt so ashamed when i read that part because i have said that and believed it but i know now there's a difference. i don't know. i'm not good with words but i guess it just made me reevaluate myself and why standing up is important. i love when books do that. i'm also glad i read it last year, i don't think my heart could handle it now.

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  17. I haven't read a Picoult book in years (you're right, they are always sad), but this one I've been wanting to read for months now! Not sure I'm in the right mood for something so heavy, but I do plan to read it sooner than later. As someone who worked in a hospital as a nurse for years, that part of the subject matter intrigues me too.

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