Book Review | Small Great Things | Jodi Picoult
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” – Martin Luther King Jr
In this bold new novel by Jodi Picoult, racial discrimination and white supremacy form part of a gripping story of social injustice issues that brim with truth even within our educated global village of today.
Widowed, single mother Ruth Jefferson is thirty-nine and has worked as a labour ward nurse for the last twenty years at the same hospital. She is passionate about her job and has a perfect work record – until the day the father of a newborn, Turk Bauer, requests that a note be put on his son’s file, forbidding any African-American nurse to tend to him.
What ensues is a chain of events that sees Ruth being dismissed from her job, charged with negligent homicide and a lawyer by the name of Kennedy McQuarrie stepping up to the challenge of defending her.
Telling the story from Ruth’s, Turk’s and Kennedy’s perspectives, Jodi gives us an in-depth and fully rounded look at all sides of the story and the feelings involved. As she dares to ask bigger questions than possibly any author ever has, it is with sensitivity and respect that she successfully navigates the different POVs in this heart-rending story that brings some harsh realities to life.
Ever since Jodi Picoult first burst onto the literary scene during the early 1990’s, I’ve been an avid fan of hers because I identified her as a writer who recognises the impact her stories have on people, thus giving her writing a powerful purpose – by putting her readers at the heart of her stories, she raises awareness of relevant issues while also giving them emotional and thought-provoking themes to ponder, hopefully inspiring us to create change where we can.
I’ve also noticed that there seems to have been a bit of a trend in my reading fodder of late, in that most of these novels have been along the themes of human interest – addressing injustice, racism, religious extremism, attitudes to same-sex relationships, etc. – and, in view of the recent US election result, same may say that this is a timely novel.
Jodi’s subject matter is almost always contemporary, complex and challenging with everyday people like you and I at its heart, and Small Great Things is no different. In a world where rifts appear more frequently between people who classify themselves as “normal” and those that are “different”, Jodi brings us a story where she presents the diverse backgrounds of her characters in fairly black and white terms!
As usual, the intensity of Jodi’s storytelling is convincing and she never pulls any punches in the aspects it traverses, and I had real trouble putting this one down, even though there were times in Turk’s narrative where I found the story to be somewhat confronting, especially in relation to his and his wife’s prejudice against people who were “different” to them.
With well-drawn characters, real life situations and themes of white privilege, prejudice and acceptance, amongst others, the American justice system also comes into sharp focus as Jodi showcases the best and worst of humanity. Presenting all sides of the story with honesty, insight and compassion, Jodi gives us yet another story that will appeal to the reader’s sub-conscience and stay with you long after the last page has been turned.
Everyone has a story to tell and Jodi Picoult isn’t afraid to tell it for them!
I wish to thank Allen and Unwin for my hard copy ARC.
About the Author
Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of twenty-three novels.
Her last eight novels have debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and her highly anticipated novel, Small Great Things was released in October 2016 in Australia.
Jodi 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.
Her books are translated into thirty four languages in thirty five countries and four of them (The Pact, Plain Truth, The Tenth Circle and Salem Falls) have been made into television movies with My Sister's Keeper being released by New Line Cinema on the big screen.
She lives with her husband and their three children in Hanover, New Hampshire with two Springer spaniels, two rescue puppies, two donkeys, two geese, ten chickens, a smattering of ducks, and the occasional Holstein.
Jodi also now has an Australian website which you can visit at: http://jodipicoult.com.au.
About the Book
'I don't want that nurse touching my baby.' Those are the instructions from the newborn child's parents. However, when the baby goes into cardiac arrest, Ruth, a nurse of twenty years' experience, sees no option but to assist. But the baby dies. And Ruth is charged with negligent homicide.
Ruth is shattered and bewildered as she tries to come to terms with her situation. She finds different kinds of support from her sister, a fiery radical, and her teenage son, but it is to Kennedy McQuarrie, a white middle-class lawyer, to whom she entrusts her case, and her future.
As the two come to develop a truer understanding of each other's lives, they begin to doubt the beliefs they each hold most dear. In order for the privileged to prosper, they come to realise, others have to suffer. Racism takes many forms, and is reinforced and underpinned by the structures of our society.
In gripping dramas like Nineteen Minutes, My Sister's Keeper and The Pact, Jodi Picoult has explored the big issues of our time through characters whose lives resonate with us. Here we see once again her unrivalled ability to immerse us in a story whose issues will linger with us long after the final page has been finished.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: October 2016
Page Extent: 480