Book: Small Great Things
Author: Jodi Picoult
Published By: Hodder and Stoughton
Expected Publication: 22nd November 2016
I received this book for free via Netgalley, this in no way affected my opinion of the book.
First of, as always, I must thank Netgalley and Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read this book, I am a big fan of Jodi Picoult’s writing and so I am highly appreciative that I got the chance to read her new book early.
This book is about a nurse, Ruth Jefferson, who becomes the subject of a lawsuit when the baby of a white supremacist (Turk Bauer) dies whilst left in her care after she has been banned from touching him by his father, since he believes in the superiority of the white race, and Ruth, is black (this is highly simplified and the plot is obviously a lot more complex than this, but you get the basic idea).
The structure of the book followed much the same structure as Picoult’s other books, multiple POV and split into different parts (each part reflecting a different stage of labour, as Ruth is a Labour and Delivery Nurse) but the similarities ended there really, the entire book felt totally different to anything that Picoult has ever written before, probably because the subject matter is so prevalent given what is happening in America right now.
I found the medical terminology a little confusing and be warned, there is a lot of it at the beginning (so I had to do a lot of googling whilst reading), but it became more understandable (ie was slightly better explained), the more you read of the book.
Turk was (as I was expecting), a complete and utter asshole, and it both saddens and frightens me that there are real people out there who feel the way he does. I found it quite difficult to read his chapters, but I did learn a lot about the Skinhead movement which was something I never knew about before. It seemed like one incident in his past (his brother being killed by a black drunk driver) had motivated his entire way of thinking, but I thought that was quite realistic, as often extreme views can stem from something like that. I found it quite interesting how my opinion of Turk and his wife Brittany changed throughout the book, initially Turk seemed more extreme than Brittany but as the book goes on, Brittany felt like the more intense of the two and I found it interesting to see how they both developed as characters through the book, although I did feel that Turk’s character development in the epilogue seemed to have happened a little too quickly given the events of the book (although time had passed so I guess most of his character development happened off page). I did feel bad for them that they lost their baby (especially Brittany), but that doesn’t excuse their actions. I was very surprised when I found out how young Turk was because he seemed way older!
Ruth on the other hand, is a character that you can really root for (though I did want to shake her at the end for being so stupid, but I digress) because it is so clear that she is being discriminated against, and it’s made very obvious that she did not kill the Bauer’s baby. She’s a hardworking, intelligent woman who is clearly very good at her job which makes it easy to empathize with her when everything goes wrong, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a character to be acquitted so much in Jodi Picoult book before. I also really liked Kennedy, she was such a good lawyer and I found all the scenes with her in court very impressive and she just seemed like a genuinely nice person who really wanted to make sure Ruth was acquitted. Her husband Micah was also the complete sweetest (I would like a Micah!) and her daughter was so cute.
This book is not an easy read, there were many things that made me angry (mostly all the white Supremacy stuff, Turk and Brittany’s wedding was a particularly angering moment, it’s like White Supremacists haven’t even heard of feminism, it was totally barbaric), but also all the casual racism was really hard to read and it made me think about myself and wonder if I’ve ever said anything like that without meaning to. It was also quite hard to read Ruth’s interview with the police because it’s so infuriating that the officers’ don’t believe her. I can also say that before this book I’d never thought of The Lion King in racial terms, but I will now!
I love Ruth and Kennedy’s relationship and seeing it develop through the book, because there was a very interesting dynamic between them. I particularly loved the scene when they first meet up about the trial because you get to see it from both of their POVs and it’s interesting to see the differences in the way that they perceive each other.
I really liked that there were a few current news issues brought up in the book because I was like “Oh I remember that happening”!.
I also really liked seeing Ruth and her sister’s relationship because they are such polar opposites and it’s quite interesting to see the different paths that the two sisters have taken and how different they are, plus I just love how Picoult writes sisterly relationships, she always seems to write the sister dynamic really well.
I never knew before this book that race isn’t talked about in courts in America, to me it seems logical that when a case is about race you talk about it, so it was very frustrating when Kennedy said she wasn’t going to talk about it, since Ruth’s entire case was about race. I also really enjoyed seeing the jury selection process as that’s something I never really knew about before reading Jodi Picoult’s books.
I really liked Howard, Kennedy’s co-counsel on Ruth’s case, though I wondered if it was maybe slightly racist to hire him to help her because he’s black, although it seemed like it was maybe a nod to Chris Darden on the OJ Simpson case who was put on the case for the same reason. I found the research on implicit bias that he found really interesting because I’d never heard of that before (one thing about Jodi Picoult’s books is that I always go away having learned something, which I really like!).
There were some uncorrected proof errors, but there were surprisingly few (I’ve read e-ARC’s with more before) and I’m sure these will have been corrected in the published version and generally, Jodi Picoult’s writing was as gorgeous and infinitely quotable as ever, I can’t wait to get my print copy so I can write my favourite quotes in the front cover as I always do with her books.
I wish Ruth’s relationship with Christina (the daughter of her mother’s employer who she basically grew up with) had been explored more, because they had some really sweet moments and I just would have liked to have seen more of them.
As usual, there were the classic Picoult twists, although where she usually has one big twist in each of her books (and normally at the end), this time, there seemed to be lots of twists and turns (admittedly all in the last third) rather than just the one big one. They were coming quite fast at the end, I wasn’t quite sure where to turn!
The epilogue seemed to wrap things up a little too neatly, as I said earlier, Turk seemed to have done a complete 360, but I did appreciate that for once the ending to a Jodi Picoult book did not make me incredibly depressed and was actually quite happy for a change (well as happy as a Jodi Picoult book ending can be, what happened to Brittany was kind of depressing, I mean she’s a horrible human being, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for her).
Overall, I thought this was an extremely powerful, thought provoking, well written novel and that it’s something that everyone needs to read because we never think about our own unconscious prejudices until we are confronted with them and this book certainly doesn’t shy away from doing that.
My rating: 4.5/5 (couldn’t decide between a 4 and 5!)
I don’t know what my next review is going to be as I’m writing this months before it’s going to be published, but I’m sure you’ll find out soon!