“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” (Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Small Great Things was a book worth waiting for! I heard Jodi Picoult speak in Toronto this past October but saved this book until February and read it in celebration of Black History Month for my in-person book club. The book is told from four different perspectives and is a story that makes a reader ponder what it is to be black and question our individual assumptions. It is guaranteed to promote conversation and a terrific choice for book clubs!
Ruth has twenty years of experience as a labour and delivery nurse in a small hospital. After assessing a newborn named Davis, the white supremacist parents ask to see Ruth’s supervisor. Turk and Britt don’t want Ruth touching their baby. A post it note is added to the chart stating “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT”. The unit is busy and when an emergency caesarian section occupies her colleagues, Ruth is left alone with Davis. The baby arrests and Ruth is left to quickly decide whether to abide by the post it note directions or go against the parents wishes and attempt to save the child.
Sadly, Davis dies, Ruth is charged with murder and her family is thrust into a maelstrom of media frenzy, courtroom drama and day to day struggles surviving after Ruth’s license to practice nursing was revoked. Each character tells their own story. Ruth reveals her upbringing which led her to be a star student and her love for her son who grew up without a father after he was killed in the service. Kennedy, the lawyer, learns about white privilege, racism and prejudice as she considers her own feelings and beliefs as she defends Ruth. Turk and Britt provide insight into their white supremacist views and shocking details of violence and hatred.
The author was inspired by the case of a nurse in Flint, Michigan who had sued the hospital after her supervisor added a post-it note to a patient chart saying that no black staff were to care for a child at the direction of the father who had rolled up his sleeve revealing a swastika. This experienced nurse had worked for the hospital for 25 year and she was rewarded with a settlement of almost $200, 000.
Jodi is a detailed researcher which adds authenticity to her novels. She attended social justice workshops, met a group of women of colour and spent 100 hours researching, talking with them and asking them to review and edit Ruth’s perspective. She even interviewed two former skin heads to understand Turk’s perspective.
Thanks to Jodi for making this a topic of conversation which helps readers to discuss racism at a time when American politics have thrust this issue into the spotlight.
Learn more about Jodi Picoult reading her answers to my Novel Questions.