Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult tackles relevant themes such as prejudice, privilege, race and justice. It would fit into the the following categories for the 2018 reading challenge: Criminal Intent for the courtroom procedural portion of the book, & pay it forward as you’ll finish this book and want your friend to read it so you can discuss it.
The novel opens with Ruth Jefferson a seasoned labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital. 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.
Several things are done well in this book, the book will put your privilege in check, it will put you in the shoes of the cast of characters – sometimes these are very uncomfortable shoes. It tackles the uncomfortable racial justice issues that are dominant on the news. Racial identity and prejudice propel the plot forward.
The biggest issue is that the African American characters tend to fit into the stereotypical roles/stock characterization that are continually perpetuated by white writers. Jodi Picoult often writes books that include a controversial issue, often medically related containing a moral tug-of-way and at some point in the book there is a courtroom scene. Things to think about while reading this book: What would be different if the nurse was the white supremacist, the baby and parents were black and they some how knew the nurse was a white supremacist and wanted to add a stipulation to the care plan that included a similar note in the baby’s file? What repercussions would have happened if the role reversal included the white supremacist nurse who refused to treat a black baby? How would this book be different? Would it be more compelling even if it was less believable?
When I run across books that use outdated stereotypes or characterization of marginalized in media characters, it makes me eager to read “Own Voices” books in the coming year to gain a more enhanced perspective. Books characterized as “Own Voices” add authenticity to diverse reading as the writer identifies with the culture, subculture and perspective of the characters portrayed in the novel. It’s exciting to see this sub-genre or sub-category growing in the book-o-sphere. In case you are curious, here is a goodreads list of books that qualify as own voices.
Still despite my qualms, this book was gripping and contemplative and made relevant points to our current societal issues regarding race and humanity.