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Small Great Things

 

By: Jodi Picoult

ISBN: 9780345544957

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 10/11/2016

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars +++

Top Book of 2016

Ruth, an African-American nurse, has worked at a CT hospital for nearly twenty years as a labor and delivery nurse.

So when a young couple, Turk and Brittany, come into the hospital to have their baby, it is business as usual -- until Turk calls in Ruth’s white supervisor after the birth. He says, “I don’t want her or anyone like her to touch my boy,” and pulls up his sleeve to reveal a swastika tattoo: he and his wife are Skinheads. The hospital is used to making patient requests -- they have women who request female OBs, and others who don’t want be cared for by a resident. So a note is placed on the baby’s file and all African-American staff are exempted from caring from that patient -- meaning Ruth, who is the only Black nurse on the ward. 

 

The baby is taken to the nursery a day after its birth so circumcision can be done. However, Ruth’s nursing colleague is called away on an emergency C section and Ruth is the only person in the nursery when the baby has cardiac/respiratory failure. After a brief hesitation – she intervenes – and yet, the baby dies. Not long after that, Ruth learns she has been charged with negligent homicide by the state.

 

Ruth’s attorney is a white woman -Kennedy McQuarrie- who would not consider herself a racist by any means. Like Ruth, she has a child. But unlike Ruth, her family has never had to think about race on a daily basis. In spite of the evidence and the request of a Skinhead barring Ruth from doing her job, Kennedy knows she won’t talk about race in court, because she’d run the risk of polarizing the jury or the judge and losing the case. But to Ruth, that’s not justice.

 

As the two women form an alliance, and then an unlikely friendship, Kennedy begins to see that racism isn’t just about intent, but power. That even if Skinheads like Turk did not exist, Ruth would still be fighting an uphill battle. And she begins to seek a way to make a predominantly white jury see that they are responsible for the house they did not build…but in which they live.

 

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My Review

 

A special thank you to Random House, LibraryThing Early Reviewers, and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."–Benjamin Franklin

In the prequel, SHINE we were introduced to a special girl, Ruth as a child. Ruth experienced firsthand how color, privilege, and prejudices affected even children in school at an early age. The injustice, discrimination, and the constant struggle to be accepted. To fit in. 

Even when she was five she couldn’t blend, no matter how hard she tried. Caught in the middle of two worlds. Black and White. Will things change as she goes into adulthood? 

“The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.”— Maria Christina Mena

In Jodi Picoult's riveting, SMALL GREAT THINGS, Ruth Jefferson, African-American, now an adult, thirty-nine years old, with a son, Edison, seventeen years old- a single mom. Her husband, Wesley had been overseas when he was born and died then years earlier in Afghanistan. 

Ruth Jefferson: Presently an (L&D) labor and delivery nurse and had been for over twenty years in Connecticut. She is proud of her son who had made the highest honors list for every semester of his high school career. Like her son, she knows all too well, how few black kids in high school wind up on the honors list in a predominantly white school. 

She had worked hard for her education. A full scholarship, a prestigious white private school instead of Harlem, where her sister felt comfortable. She went to SUNY Plattsburgh and then to Yale Nursing School and now works at Mercy-West Haven Hospital on the birthing pavilion. 

Turned out she really did not fit in at Dalton, or Harlem. She was a straight A student that did not blend. When she got into Cornell, there were whispers. She couldn’t have done it without her mama’s hard work and support. She had helped her get a good education. 

Her mom had been a housekeeper for a wealthy white family with a daughter, Christina about her age her entire life. They are still friends. Her mama still works for Ms. Mina, on the Upper West Side, even since Christina is married and gone and her husband had died. 

Ruth has always treated everyone based on their individual merits as human beings, not on their skin color. Without prejudice. They lived in a white neighborhood with good schools. She had spent her life making sure her son will get the best education. The fact she was of lighter color got her privileges. 

Her sister, Rachel (Adisa) was a darker color. Her sister did not care about education or career. She still lived in Harlem, with her children. She was cynical and liked to play the victim. (also very witty). She made fun of her sister and was not playing the game. She did not care about fitting in. 

Present Day - Ruth and Edison: Her son now is experiencing a similar problem, since his best friend is white and never been a problem all these years. They had always been best friends and even vacationed together . . . Until he started dating the sister. Then things changed. 

At the hospital, Ruth gets caught up in a difficult situation which may jeopardize her career, reputation, livelihood, and ultimately affect everything she has worked for. As a nurse, Ruth encounters a father who does not want her touching their baby. He goes to her supervisor and demands she be taken off their case. She reads the file “No African American personnel to care for this patient.” She is the only African-American nurse on the ward. She was not acceptable to Turk and Brittany Bauer. This is no ordinary couples. 

She is confronted with an impossible situation. 

 

Another nurse has an emergency and leaves Ruth in charge of the baby. The baby is dying. There are complications beyond their knowledge. What is she to do? Now she is faced with a moral dilemma. What happens next turns into a nightmare. 

Davis the baby dies and now Ruth is held responsible. She was trying to save him. However, everything is not as it appears. The hospital is not supportive. She has lost her job. She is no monster, a good wife, mother, and an exemplary nurse. Not negligent. Was it the hospital’s fault for overlooking something? Why is she to blame?

Should she follow the orders of her supervisor and the misguided wishes of the baby’s parents? Or should she do whatever she possibly could to save this life? However, what she did or didn’t do- could it have made any difference? 

Readers hear from different points of view: Ruth, Turk, and Kennedy. 

Kennedy McQuarrie (white female) went to law school at Columbia, graduated in the top 5 percent of her class and spent three years clerking for a federal judge, and now with the Public Defender Services. 

Her husband Micah (funny and intelligent) was at Yale when they met. If she had not married him she would most likely follow everyone else and worked in some big corporate city firm. Instead, he went into practice and she stopped clerking to give birth to Violet. Thanks to his salary as a successful doctor, she chose to make a difference as a public defender. She was never going to be rich, but she would be able to look herself in the mirror.

She lived by the philosophy since we live in a country where justice is supposed to be meted out equally, no matter how much money you have, age, race, ethnicity, or gender— shouldn’t public defenders be just as smart and aggressive and creative as any attorney for hire? Of course, her mom who grew up in North Carolina on the debutante circuit is all about appearances. 

Kennedy is determined to be Ruth’s public defender. They even live in the same white affluent neighborhood. Something about this case does not add up. She believes in justice. She may not have tried a murder case before, however, she has done dozens of drug, assault, and domestic jury trials. (I am a huge fan of The Guardian, and strongly reminded of the show with Kennedy/Ruth/Turk.) 

She does not want a grandstand with Rev Wallace Mercy. She also knows you cannot play the race card during a trial. Suicide in a courtroom. Or can she? She has to find something else to latch on to –something for twelve men and women to go home still pretending that the world we live in is an equal one. However, has she really thought down deep, about what people of color really have to face every day of their lives?

Turk: Age twenty-five. Married to Brit. Baby, Davis. A White supremacist--- a racist ideology centered upon the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior in certain characteristics, traits, and attributes to people of other racial backgrounds and therefore white people should politically, economically and socially rule non-white people. He cannot stand black people, Asians, gays, or anyone else who isn’t like him. A white power skinhead. 

His father-in-law and wife are also a part of the group. A terror squad. From blacks, Jews, to gays. He is in for a fight and determined to win this case against Ruth. He is going to war. In addition, there is also a background with his father. In the courtroom, their supporters would not be happy with any verdict short of a public lynching. Revenge. 

Turk thinks White Supremacists were more academic, publishing treatises; Skinheads more violent, preferring to teach a lesson with their fists. No matter the movement or brotherhood they all come together one day of the year to celebrate the birthday of Adolf Hitler, like the old KKK. 

Lost in grief and pain, they wanted to find a scapegoat. If they could not have their son alive and healthy, they wanted someone else to suffer, mainly Ruth. 

How can Ruth tell her mom about this? A daughter her mom broke her back for her to end up like this – in a jail cell? The best lies are the ones that are wrapped around a core of truth. How can she use her son’s college savings to fight a legal battle? However, if she cannot work, how will she support them? Her mom had told her she was destined to do small great things. 

Just like Dr. King. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” 

Now she has bigger problems than keep her job. A criminal prosecution has been filed. The state is holding her responsible for the death of the baby. They are targeting her because they think she failed as a nurse. However, Ruth disagrees. They are targeting her because she is black. She is under arrest. Murder and involuntary manslaughter.

A trial. An attorney, a victim, a villain, an accuser. However, there is a twist which is a major game-changer, taking readers to the final explosive conclusion. Some may have to look within to find the root of the problem. 

Thought-provoking, emotional, and timely- Picoult once again delivers an extraordinary message – a well-researched, “stand out" character driven novel– social justice. Thank you, for having the courage to write so eloquently regarding subjects which make some feel uncomfortable--with honesty, clarity, and compassion. 

The most critical part of the novel is defining “active and passive” racism. This really should challenge readers to think about their own hearts and daily behavior at home, school, and work. 

As most whites do not consider themselves as active --which to most is extreme. However, what about passive racism? It is noticing there’s only one person of color in your office and not asking your boss why. It’s reading your kid’s fourth-grade curriculum and seeing that the only black history covered is slavery, and not questioning why. Glossing over the things which matter. The unintentional. 

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” –Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom

From the Author’s Note (Powerful)! Inspired by a true story of an African American nurse in Michigan, the author writes from the point of view of a Black nurse, a skinhead father, and a white woman public defender. Her journey to getting this book in form. 

Exploring racism and prejudice; whereas racism is more than just discrimination based on skin color. More importantly, it is also about who has institutional power. Just as racism creates disadvantages for people of color that make success harder to achieve, it also gives advantages to white people that make success easier to achieve. A wonderful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words. It is through small acts that racism is both perpetuated and partially dismantled. 

(An extensive Bibliography and additional reading included). Ideal for book clubs and group discussions. 

Ruth and Kennedy both are two women different in many ways, and alike in so many others. They do small things, that has great and lasting repercussions for others. They are both fighting for their clients, patients, and their family.  

As the author reiterates, “There is a fire raging, and we have two choices: we can turn our backs, or we can try to fight it." Talking about racism. Educate. Listen to the voices unheard. Create fair paths to success for everyone that accommodate those differences. The American dream isn’t quite so accessible to all. Racism is not just about hate. There are biases. It is about power— and who has access to it. Prejudice goes both ways; some who suffer, some who profit.

A great example of racism, prejudice, and privilege - from a child, teen, and a parent’s viewpoint. From black to white, everyone "can" make a difference, in order to change our world for the better. 

 

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Oct Top Picks 

 

 

Author's Note: About Small Great Things

Inspiration Behind the Novel (powerful & thought-provoking) 

 

 

Advance Praise

 

 "It’s Kennedy’s journey of coming to terms with her own racist relatives and white privilege, as she realizes, for the first time, the pervasiveness of American racism, that is the real story here"…
Kirkus Reviews

 

 

"Picoult’s gripping tale is told from three points of view, that of Ruth, Kennedy and Turk, and offers a thought-provoking examination of racism in America today, both overt and subtle. Her many readers will find much to discuss in the pages of this topical, moving book." --  BookList Starred Review 


 

 

 Jodi Picoult is never afraid to take on hot topics, and in SMALL GREAT THINGS, she tackles race and discrimination in a way that will grab hold of you and refuse to let you go…this page-turner is perfect for book clubs.--Popsugar

 

 

"Picoult writes with a fine touch, a sharp eye for detail, and a firm grasp of the delicacy and complexity of human relationships." — The Boston Globe
 

 

People Magazine exclusive
—Jodi Picoult's new novel about racism was 'one of the hardest' she's ever written “Jodi Picoult has dealt with weighty issues such as teenagers with leukemia in My Sister's Keeper and child sexual abuse in Perfect Match. Now, in her latest novel, she's covering another pressing topic: racism in the United States”

 

 

Audiobook - Look Who's Narrating (my favorite Cassandra Campbell!)

Have pre-ordered and looking forward to listening after reading the book

 

 

 

Written by: Jodi Picoult
Narrated by: Audra McDonald, Cassandra Campbell, Ari Fliakos
Length: 15 hrs 
Unabridged Audiobook
Release Date:10-11-16
Publisher: Random House Audio
Buy Audio

 

 

 

 

Shine

 

By: Jodi Picoult
Novella e-book
ASIN: B01IZT8PHC
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 9/13/2016
Format: Kindle
My Rating: 5 Stars

Read My Review

 

Jodi Picoult tackles issues of race and privilege in this ebook original short story, a prequel to her upcoming novel Small Great Things. In “Shine,” the master storyteller and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leaving Time and My Sister’s Keeper introduces readers to the unforgettable Ruth Brooks. Read More 

 

Buy the Book

 

 

About the Author

 

 

Jodi Picoult, 48, is the bestselling author of twenty-three novels: Songs of the Humpback Whale (1992), Harvesting the Heart (1994), Picture Perfect (1995), Mercy (1996), The Pact (1998), Keeping Faith (1999), Plain Truth (2000), Salem Falls (2001), Perfect Match (2002), Second Glance (2003), My Sister's Keeper (2004), Vanishing Acts (2005), The Tenth Circle (2006), Nineteen Minutes (2007), Change of Heart (2008), Handle With Care (2009), House Rules (2010), and Sing You Home (2011), Lone Wolf (2012) and the YA novel Between The Lines (2012) co-written with her daughter Samantha van Leer, and The Storyteller (2013). Her last eight novels have debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Her highly anticipated new novel, Leaving Time, was released in the US, Canada, and Australia October 14, 2014; it will be released in the UK on 4th November. 

 

Picoult studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Realism - and a profound desire to be able to pay the rent - led Picoult to a series of different jobs following her graduation: as a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, as a copywriter at an ad agency, as an editor at a textbook publisher, and as an 8th grade English teacher - before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education. She married Tim Van Leer, whom she had known at Princeton, and it was while she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale.  Read More 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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