(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse with more than two decades of experience, is on duty when 26-year-old Brittany Bauer gives birth to a baby boy. Ruth is doing a routine check on the infant when his parents insist on having her removed from the room. Baffled, she can't imagine what she's done wrong. The problem? Her race. The Bauers belong to an aggressive white supremacist group known as the Movement. Despite Ruth's proficiency as a nurse, they ousted her because she's black. Ordered to stay away from tiny Davis Bauer, she hesitates before performing CPR when the newborn goes into cardiac arrest a day later. When the newborn dies, the Bauers are quick to lay the blame at Ruth's feet.
An outraged Ruth finds herself embroiled in a lawsuit that quickly becomes a media sensation. Trying to shield her teenage son from the negative attention, she struggles to keep their lives from unraveling completely. When Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes Ruth's case, things get even more complicated for the troubled nurse. With her world crumbling around her, Ruth must put her trust in a stranger whose law degree is still warm from the printer. Can Kennedy get justice for Ruth? When the lawyer insists that race not be brought up in the courtroom, Ruth can't contain her fury. How can Kennedy, with her all-present white privilege, ever understand what this case is really about? The two women have to work together in order to exonerate Ruth, but is that even possible? As the case progresses, each will be forced to question long-held beliefs and prejudices, which will lead both to some startling revelations about each other and themselves.
I've been a Jodi Picoult fan for some time. Although I've enjoyed some of her books more than others, there's one thing all of them have in common: they made me think. Picoult excels at taking a hot-button issue (she's addressed school shootings, gay marriage/adoption, organ donation, child abuse, euthanasia, etc.) and examining it from every angle in an honest, forthright way that forces the reader to look at the issue in new ways. The author's newest novel, Small Great Things, examines racial prejudice, white privilege, and the seemingly insignificant ways in which people judge each other based on appearance. Picoult seems a little more heavy-handed with this theme than others she has explored, but the Author's Note she includes at the end of the book is very raw and intriguing. Maybe more so than the story itself. Which isn't to say the story isn't engrossing. It is. Despite its too-tidy end and some characters I found difficult to connect with. overall Small Great Things is definitely compelling. It's not my favorite Picoult by a long shot, but the novel did what I expected it to—it made me think. It also propelled me to look at my own attitudes afresh. If you're looking for a book club read, this one (like all Picoult books) should prompt some lively discussion.
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language, violence, sexual content, racial slurs, and disturbing content