After simmering on this book for a couple of weeks now, I’m changing my original 4 stars to a 2 ½ stars.
Ruth Jefferson is a Labor and Delivery nurse in Connecticut. She has worked more than twenty years in this field. For all intents and purposes, she is good at what she does.
One morning, she meets Davis Bauer, a beautiful baby boy. As she is giving him his newborn checkup, she senses something off with the parents. When she hands the baby back to his mother, his father requests to see her manager. When her manager returns from meeting with the new baby’s parents, Ruth is made aware that she is no longer allowed to work on their case.
You see, Ruth is African-American and the Bauer’s are white supremacists. What happens later is both sad and eye opening. After a sudden turn of events, the Bauer’s baby dies and Ruth is put on trial for his murder.
As I delved more into this book, it felt more like racism was on trial. This woman, who was simply doing her job, was thrown to the wolves by her employer because they knew that the parents wanted blood. It made me angry and it also made me very sad.
Small Great Things is told from the points of view of Ruth Jefferson, Turk Bauer and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie. I can completely relate to Ruth. I, too, am an African-American woman, raising a teenage son, albeit with my husband, in a time when it’s not very easy to be an African-American. Especially when it feels like our sons are targets for all types of things. I, like Ruth, have raised my son with integrity and the knowledge that he can be anything that he wants to be as long as he puts in the work. I, like Ruth, just want to prove that I can do my job just as well as anyone else.
When I started to read the words of Turk Bauer, my stomach clenched up in metaphorical knots. I wanted to vomit. I felt pent up rage and anger coursing through my blood. His words were vile and spoken with vitriol and I hated him instantly. I wanted to hate Jodi Picoult, too, because she had written these words for this character. I also know that, in order to be a great writer, you have to be able to draw out your reader’s emotions. She did just that.
I don’t even want to call Turk a man because he acted like an animal. He was out for revenge and the driving factor was the color of Ruth’s skin. Although I knew that he wasn’t real, he was a caricature of people that we all know exist.
Kennedy McQuarrie was also a character that I don’t know if I liked or just tolerated. She existed in her own world with her physician husband and outspoken young daughter. Until she met Ruth, her main thought was that she didn’t see color. Her character seemed to be one that was added for readers who may not like the content of Ms. Picoult’s new book yet would find comfort in reading about someone that was just like them. She is that person that insists they aren’t racist.
The more I read about race and how it pertained to the plight that Ruth Jefferson was going through, the more that I realized that the color of my skin is more than just a color. It symbolizes who I am in this country, in this state, in this city, in my life. This book brought out so many emotions that I didn’t really understand that I had. I felt anger at times and I wanted to punch Turk Bauer in the throat with all that I had. I also felt helpless and very sad. Most of all, I felt hurt.
The more I read this book, I became a little bit more perturbed and questioned the author’s motives. Like The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, Ms. Picoult has taken to writing a book from the viewpoint of an African-American woman, even though she is white. What bothers me about books like this are, although they are written well, if you have not had the African-American experience, how can you portray it as though you have? When you leave your pen and paper behind, you are able to settle back into your privilege and reap the benefits of it.
Like Ms. Stockett, Jodi Picoult is set to make money from the movie about this book. A book about experiences that she has never had. A book off the back of a fictional, African-American character with real world problems.
Picoult says, in an interview that she did with NPR’s Scott Simon, that she has wanted to write a book on race relations for about twenty years. Why did she wait until now, when so many things are happening with regards to race, to cash in on this movement? Maybe that is what bothers me the most.
I implore you to read the book. Maybe I read too much into it and am completely absorbed by my feelings about it. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll give it a 3.
Formats Available: Regular Type, Large Type, eBook, Audiobook
Reviewed by Damera, Okolona Branch