I make no secret of the fact that I love Jodi Picoult and her ridiculous, scandal-filled books. Generally, I’m pretty sure that her writing method involves throwing a handful of darts at a wall on which she has listed every possible social and personal issue, and just writing a story which includes as many of those as possible, and then making sure to include a court case.
In many ways, Small Great Things was no different to this – there was a big social issue and a court case, and a big sting in the tail (there’s always a sting in the tail!). But actually, I think this was one of Picoult’s strongest offerings because it was focused on one main issue, and not getting side-tracked into seventeen other issues of import.
This has definitely come up as one of my favourite Picoult books, and I’ve been recommending it to my sister (who’s still not read the last Picoult book I got her… in 2015) with gusto. Focused and tight, this is definitely a book worth reading.
When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father.
What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.
Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us.
Small Great Things was always on my to-read list, because Picoult books automatically go on my list, but having actually gotten hold of a massive hardbacked copy of it, I was hooked from the very beginning. Despite being almost 500 pages, I had it read within a day and a half, and was left at the end with a feeling of deep unease about race relations in the US.
At times this book felt a little bit like racism 101, with its focus on the invisible (to white people) discrimination that black Americans face every day, but I think that focus was actually important not only as Ruth, the African-American main character, explains this to the white people around her, but also as other characters (notably Turk, the White Supremacist father of the baby at the centre of this book) go on a journey of discovery.
I think it’s hugely important that we have diverse books to read, and that Own Voices are supported. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Jodi Picoult writing from the perspective of a black woman. Being a middle-class white European, this is not a perspective that I can claim to have any understanding of, but it is one that I appreciate reading about. Picoult’s books are always told from multiple points of view, so Ruth is just one character of the narrators in Small Great Things, along with Turk, and Kennedy, Ruth’s white lawyer.
Sometimes I felt like this book was a bit preachy, with a white author writing about something she will never understand. But then at other times I felt like Jodi Picoult has such a wide audience that her highlighting this issue will make it more widely understood than if written by a black author. Not because Picoult would have a better understanding (of course she wouldn’t), but because by the very nature of her privilege, she’ll reach more people. I don’t know. It’s a tough one, and I don’t really have a conclusion on it.
Story-wise, though, I very much enjoyed this book. It clipped along at a nice pace, and was focused on the central issues in the book, without diverging into the many side-plots that usually pepper Picoult books. Pleasingly, rather than detracting from the book (like it did with Lone Wolf), this made the story more focused and intense, and I appreciated it a lot.
I’ll tell you what I had a massive issue with, though, was the needless reveal at the end of the book. Picoult books almost always have a massive reveal or twist in the last five pages, and this was no different, but it added almost nothing to the story, and I felt like it actually detracted in a large way from the impact of the foregoing plotlines.
But, then, if I read a Picoult book without a big twist at the end, I’d be disgusted that there was no twist, so really I have no strong conclusions here. I do know, however, that I very much enjoyed this book, and would happily recommend it, with the caveat that as a white person, my perspective on race relations is awfully privileged.