Small Great Things will be published on October 11, 2016. I love Jodi Picoult’s novels because they usually tackle a time relevant and profoundly sensitive issue, causing readers to step back and take a look at things from different points of view. Small Great Things is written in the same manner, but this time Picoult explores the heavily debated and recently newsworthy issues of prejudice, race, and justice. This is one of my favorite Picoult novels, ranking up near the top with Change of Heart and The Storyteller.
On a routine shift in the labor and delivery ward at Mercy-West Haven Hospital where Ruth Washington has been a nurse for 20 years, her life changes dramatically based upon a family member’s request. Ruth is assigned to postpartum care of the mother and routine infant care for the Bauer family, who she quickly learns are white supremacists. Ruth happens to be the only black nurse on the ward, and the Bauers request that she is not allowed to care for their infant son solely because of the color of her skin. Though hurt and embarrassed by the hospital’s actions in not allowing her to care for a patient despite her stellar work record, Ruth tries to move on and focus on caring for patients, for which she is more than capable. However, when Davis Bauer goes into cardiac arrest after a routine procedure, Ruth is the only one in the room with him. She hesitates, knowing that she has been forbidden to touch the child, but ends up performing CPR and trying to save Davis’s life. Tragically, Davis Bauer dies. As expected, Turk and Brittany Bauer are out for justice and revenge, believing that Ruth Washington is the sole reason their son perished. Ruth finds herself on trial with a white public defender who has not yet defended anyone in a murder trial. Ruth’s husband passed away 10 years prior while on military duty, leaving her the sole provider for their son Edison, now a high school student working hard to get into college and be successful. An overly independent woman, she must learn to trust and lean on Kennedy, her lawyer, if she wants to be around for her son’s future.
Kennedy McQuarrie begs her boss to take on Ruth’s case, in part because she wants the challenge of her first murder trial, but also because there is something about Ruth which Kennedy can’t shake. She knows in her heart that Ruth, a nurse who took the Florence Nightingale pledge and cares deeply for her patients, would not deliberately cause the death of an infant. Though she has hundreds of public defender cases open and precious little time, Kennedy throws herself into Ruth’s case with a new fervor, and in the process learns a lot about Ruth, but even more about herself. Kennedy claims that she doesn’t see color, and believes blacks and whites to be equal. She cautions Ruth from bringing up race in the trial, knowing that it will blow any chance of an acquittal. Even though race is the sole reason for the unfortunate tragedy and the underlying reason Ruth is on trial, Kennedy is scared to bring the issue to light in front of the media and jury. As she spends more time with Ruth, Kennedy begins to notice so many things Ruth faces that she would have never noticed before. Readers will be proud of the way Kennedy “grows up” during the course of the story. I know I was.
All in all, this is a wonderful story about human connection, no matter the color of one’s skin. The ending had me teared up, but smiling because the outcome from such an ugly, unfortunate situation turned into something truly beautiful when the final chapter came to a close. The story shows that one person can cause a ripple which can lead to a tidal wave. It only takes a small, great thing to start a change that can affect a great many people.
Picoult does a fabulous job of showing the perspective of two very different sides of racial equality and prejudice. The story progresses back and forth between Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk Bauer. Picoult’s author notes at the end of the story are not to be missed. She explains why she wanted to write a story about race, why she waited so long to do so, and about the real life situation she used as background for Small Great Things. The research she completed for the story is phenomenal and much appreciated.
The title of the book references a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” The characters in this story certainly did small things in a great way, as well as Jodi Picoult did by writing this story. Picoult notes that she will get push-back for this story, both from white people and people of color. She knew it wouldn’t be easy or fun, but she wrote the novel “because the things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.” Well said, Jodi Picoult. I am very grateful you wrote Small Great Things and I truly believe it will change the perspectives of many readers.