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.

No Peeking

I had to jump on the bandwagon with my next read, Bird Box by Josh Malerman.   This book was so uniquely appealing to me. I found myself looking forward to each chance to read more.

The book’s apocalyptic setting moves back and forth between then and now. In the “now,” Malorie is on her own with two young children (all blindfolded) planning an escape route that brings them down the river in hopes of finding a refuge. 

“Then” takes the reader back to discover the events leading up to this escape. Mayhem rapidly spreads through the world.  People are seeing something which prompts them to extreme violence. Ultimately they take their own lives in desperately gruesome ways.  It never becomes clear as to what the “creatures” are, but there is definitely an understood presence causing these deaths.

Malorie’s sister is a victim.  She moves on, and manages to find a house of other random people, including Tom, Don, Felix, Cheryl, Jules and his dog Victor.  Malorie is pregnant and there happens to be another pregnant woman, Olympia, who arrives at the house too. They survive by keeping all windows covered and wearing blindfolds whenever they go outside.  Bird box refers to their alarm system – birds kept in a box outside their door to alert them if outsiders approach. There is a great parallel here, since the people/survivors are boxed in as well. Eventually they let in an outsider, Gary, and this begins the house’s unraveling.

The night that Malorie and Olympia both go into labor changes everything once and for all for their household.  Malorie raises the children, named Boy and Girl, to be keen listeners.  Hearing is their most important sense in this dangerous world.

While there are many end-of-world stories, this one really stands out. We only know as much as the characters. We don’t see or ever find out what the others have seen, and for me, this makes the book captivating.  I had to watch the movie after reading the book. Despite some notable differences, I felt the movie portrayed the book well.  I’m glad that I jumped on this bandwagon.


The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a story in which you know someone is going to lose his or her life, it’s just a matter of figuring out who it will be and how it will happen.  The story follows a family through most of daughter Leni’s childhood into adulthood.  Leni and her parents (Ernt and Cora) have moved numerous times.  Her dad is a Vietnam veteran and POW; the war has changed him.  He is moody, physically abusive to Leni’s mom Cora (and eventually to Leni too).  A friend of his killed during war left him a piece of land in the remotes of Alaska, and he decides that this is the change that their family needs.

They leave quickly and with few resources.  The cabin is rundown and the land is overgrown.  They work hard and learn from friendly locals about how to properly prepare for Alaska’s harsh winters.  In time, they begin to feel more at home.  Ernt begins to rage again, especially during the long winters.  He turns against his wealthy, businessman neighbor Tom Walker which stirs the plot even more.  Along with this is Leni’s growing friendship with Tom’s son, and her growing concern for the safety of her and her mom.

There are unexpected twists and turns through the story.  Ultimately Leni and her mom are free from abuse, but not without many sacrifices.  The story comes full circle when Leni is able to return to Alaska and create her own life and family there as an adult.

There are two standouts for me from this book.  First is the love of Alaska evident in the detailed setting.  The characters are in love with this place, both its beauty and its harshness.  It takes a special person to make this setting a permanent home!  Second is the relationship between Leni and her mom.  Their love for each other is unbreakable.

New Life

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate was my son’s One School, One Book read this year.  Applegate is a consistently great author for me, and this book is no exception.  The story is a lyric narrative and word choice paints powerful emotions and images throughout the story.

It is Kek’s story, a refugee who lost his brother and father in war, and whose mother is currently missing after their camp was attacked.

Kek was brought to America to stay with his cousin and aunt, who were also relocated.  Kek tries to assimilate to American life in Minnesota.  He manages to find work at a nearby failing farm, just to have some semblance of home and to be near the farm’s solitary cow.  He befriends a foster girl in his grade too.  Kek’s character combines strength, softness and hope to get through the difficulties he is forced to face in his life.

Applegate’s note at the end of the story reminds us that people (for any number of reasons) may feel lost, alone or as though they don’t belong.  While I don’t think many can imagine quite what it would feel like to go through the atrocities that Kek and his family have endured, I think we all can feel compassion and offer kindness to those who need it most.


The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity by Matthew Kelly was a Christmas gift to all parishioners of my church.  I read this book in a day, and found the author’s straight-forward, repetitive style to be thought-provoking and true.

The book establishes that our world is suffering.  I think we can all agree to this fact on multiple levels.  People have become complacent in doing nothing, or sleepwalking through life.  The “biggest lie” is that holiness isn’t possible.  When people believe this lie, they will continue to sleepwalk through life.

Kelly stresses that holiness is in fact possible and attainable through performing Holy Moments.  They are acts of pure beauty, love, and kindness that can ultimately change the world.  Holy Moments are founded on a relationship with God; they are collaborative acts.  Not only will they change the world, but they will create pure happiness for those creating them.


Want or Need?

Need by Joelle Charbonneau is a disturbing read about the extremes some will take to satisfy their own desires.

Kaylee is the main character of the novel.  She has made herself into an outcast because of her manipulative and overbearing ways of trying to find a kidney donor for her sick brother.  She has one true friend, Nate.  He shows her the Need website, which promises to fulfill a need in exchange for a bizarre task along with posted photo proof.  The tasks start seemingly basic, such as leaving cookies on a doorstep. Not so harmless when it’s discovered that the cookies are full of peanuts, proving fatal to the girl with severe allergies receiving them.

It becomes clear that there is a sinister hand playing the people of Nottawa against each other.  When the teens involved realize their part in the deadly events occurring, most choose to stay silent rather than risk getting in trouble.  Kaylee is determined to find the source of Need, especially when she realizes that her friend Nate has been kidnapped.

The ending reveals Need’s creator.  I felt it was tough to imagine someone going to such lengths out of revenge and for the government purpose described.  I found the book a bit dragged out in parts and hard to swallow in others.  But the premise is definitely interesting and it makes you think about how far people might go for what they need/want.  This very distinction (need versus want) is a repeated idea throughout the novel and an important theme.

Mantis, Wolf, Boy

Book orders are in and I managed to skim read three elementary reads.

My Awesome Summer by P. Mantis by Paul Meisel is a comical account of a season in the life of a praying mantis.  It begins with P. Mantis’s birth and his evolution to adulthood.  The illustrations are bright and the narration is informative and funny.  In a matter of fact tone, he describes hiding from predators (spiders, etc), and eating many of his siblings.  Very cute!

A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy is about a hungry young wolf who offers three would-be dinners a last request before eating them.  Each one asks for something that sends the wolf back to his house for supplies.  Of course, his prey has fled by the time he returns.  Except for the final catch, a little boy who promises he won’t leave.  Ultimately the wolf gets his dinner and the boy goes unharmed.

I may have already reviewed this one, (it seems really familiar and I’m too lazy to look back), but here goes!  The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig is a story full of meaning.  The illustrations show Brian as a faded boy that nobody notices.  Teachers don’t pay him much attention and his classmates don’t see him at all.  A new student arrives in class and Brian reaches out in support.  This begins a friendship, and through illustrations and events, we can see that Brian is no longer invisible.  Sometimes, it takes that one person to make a difference for someone.  Very sweet!!