When I told a friend and former library co-worker that I liked Jodi Picoult’s books, she basically sniffed her disapproval – and our friendship was changed forever. I worked for several years in public libraries and tried not to be judgmental of people’s reading preferences, or to let the fact that someone thought Danielle Steel wrote great literature to negatively impact my opinion of them. But really, I don’t get it. I know JP is writing for a mass market – and sometimes her resolutions might be just a bit too neat for snooty readers. But I’ll admit right up front, I am a sucker for a well-plotted story that makes me think about a social issue or two along the way.
Having said that, you might guess (correctly) that I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to read an advance copy of JP’s latest work Small Great Things in exchange for my honest review (thanks, NetGalley and Ballantine!). I deliberately didn’t read anything about it before diving in, and it’s hard to describe the impact this had on me. I really want to review it, but don’t want to spoil the story…and it is a GRIPPING story, for sure. What I really should do is just say “TRUST ME! YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK!!” but that’s not exactly how this works, so I will provide a synopsis that won’t spoil anything, then remind you again YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.
The protagonist of this, and the individual around whom the story swirls is Ruth Jefferson, an experienced (20+ years) labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and when it begins, Ruth is just beginning a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The baby’s parents, who acted a bit squirmy when Ruth came on shift and relieved another nurse, are white supremacists and make it clear they refuse to allow Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, and (you can kind of see that something is coming) the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Here is the dilemma: does she assist the baby, going against her supervisor’s direct orders, following her instinctual desire (and training)?
Ruth ends up being charged with a crime, and is represented by a public defender, Kennedy McQuarrie, who insists that even mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. The story is incredibly timely, with the increasingly ugly rhetoric inspired by events and politicians in 2016, and Jodi Picoult uses her storytelling skills to make the reader consider issues surrounding race, prejudice, privilege and justice.
Trust me, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. You will thank me! It may be unsettling, but you will enjoy the story, and it will make you think (always a good thing!) Five stars.