Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult is an intensely emotional book with courtroom drama.
The story takes place in New Haven, Connecticut. Ruth is an exceptional nurse in the labor and delivery unit of Yale New Haven Hospital, and has worked there for twenty years. A white supremacist couple, Brit and Turk, demand that Ruth not be able to care for their newborn son because she is African American.
Ruth is offended by this request and treatment (from not only the couple but because her manager went along with it). It reaches a head when the baby stops breathing while Ruth is watching him. Ruth tries to resuscitate despite orders to not touch the baby. The baby doesn’t make it, and all heck breaks loose. Turk vows to get even and initiates a lawsuit against Ruth for murdering their child.
The story switches among multiple points of view: Ruth, Turk and Ruth’s district attorney Kennedy. Ruth must navigate losing her job, her mother and possibly going to jail, all while taking care of her teenage son. Her most upsetting obstacle is facing that no matter how hard she has worked to fit in, it hasn’t worked. Ruth builds a working relationship with her attorney. Kennedy states that she is not a racist, but through the story events discovers that racism entails more than she thinks. She realizes that just by being white, and taking for granted how life is predominantly geared to favor white people, she is part of racism.
Turk’s story was most disturbing to me. As a teenager, he connected with someone who taught and encouraged him to hate and hurt anyone non-white or gay. His wife is daughter to one of the leaders of this group and they bond over their mutual hatred of others. After losing the baby, Brit never returns to any semblance of normal. Turk, however, goes through major changes by the end of the story.
I spent most of the book angry at Turk’s group and Ruth’s situation, and anxious that Ruth or her son would be physically hurt. Luckily the latter did not happen.
Kennedy reminds me a bit of the author’s voice in the story. I think the awareness that Picoult sought is clear in Kennedy’s growing understanding through the story. The afterword explains how strongly Picoult felt about writing a book dealing with racism. She engaged in numerous pre-writing interviews to capture the thoughts and feelings of every race/belief represented in the story. Picoult understood that writing this book would open her to major criticism, but she was willing to take that chance in order to create conversation around this topic. I’m glad she did, because this book is so charged with feeling that you just have to keep going in hopes that justice will be served.