Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

I was so excited to read this book and am so happy that, for the most part, I wasn’t let down!  This book explores some of the hot topics of today including race, prejudice, and privilege. As in all of the Jodi Picoult books I’ve read, the story is told from the point of view of various characters – Ruth Jefferson (a nurse charged with the death of a baby that was not supposed to be in her care due to the fact that she was African American), Turk (the father of the baby who also happened to be a white supremacist), and Kennedy (Ruth’s defense attorney).  I love books that are written with different vantage points because it’s interesting to be in the shoes of different people within the same situation.  I find that stories don’t get boring that way and you’re always kept on your toes but still get a complete picture.  Picoult has really honed this style of writing – I’ve read other books that are written similarly but whose story gets confusing or you lose the momentum of it.

Upon being charged with the death of the baby, Ruth strongly feels it’s a matter of racial discrimination – that had she not been black, the parents would have been more willing to accept that either their were medical complications that led to the death of their baby, or other circumstances out of the nurse’s control.  Kennedy feels the way to get her client freed of the charges against her was to prove the presence of scientific evidence that would cast a doubt in the jury’s mind that no matter if the attending nurse was black, white, or purple, that baby would have died.

Zi's Reads:  Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Zi’s Reads: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Through Ruth’s character, I felt that Picoult did a good job at summarizing some of the frustrations that African Americans face when it comes to white-privilege.  The reader starts understanding the day to day sacrifices and struggles that need to be made in order to try and be perceived as equal – and even then, it’s not enough.  There was a part in the book where Ruth explains to Kennedy her frustration in how a black person’s misfortune is directly related to a white person’s fortune or gain and that as long as this is the case, the two will never be equal. An interesting point that was brought up between Ruth and Kennedy was the concept of equality versus equity and being clear on what it is you’re standing for.  Equality treats people exactly the same whereas equity affords the same opportunities and takes into account differences.  For example, you could give students the exact same test, but if some students are blind, then although the tests are equal/the same, you’re not taking into account that the blind students can read the test.  However, if you provide the same test and provide the blind students with a version in braille, then all of a sudden we have equity – we are providing those students the opportunity to complete the test. This to me was a powerful distinction.

Through Turk’s character, it was interesting to see that a “pro-white” person felt that his privilege was slowly being diminished with the onset of so much diversity in the world. He was essentially feeling threatened at his loss of power and fighting for a power that is losing its strength each and every day.  The paradox of who has power and who is being limited was interesting to observe with these characters because power can only be afforded to those you let have it.  In Ruth’s case, she felt that she was a victim of white privilege or the power that white people had over her whereas Turk felt that he was losing his power and privilege to non-whites.

I enjoy reading a good case scene – in fact, those are definitely my favourite parts in Picoult’s books. Just to see how a story can unfold in the eyes of a legal system and the hurdles that characters have to jump or twists and turns that make a seemingly sealed case reopen again for a bit more drama – I live for that stuff!  This book packed a punch for the court scenes and surely didn’t disappoint.  I found myself flying through the pages of the court case!

While this book is fictional, given the racially polarizing climate at the moment (especially in America), I honestly wouldn’t find it hard to believe that stories like this are actually happening in real life.  This book is not about blatant racism – it’s about passive racism. Those people who on the surface think they’re not racist, but when they see inequality due to race they don’t do anything to change it.  The issue of race can be uncomfortable because it brings to the forefront things that we ourselves may be doing that perpetuates a form of racism (even though we may argue we’re not racist). I think that being forced into uncomfort is where real change can actually happen …

Another great read by Picoult that you should check out!


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