Small Great Things…
‘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.
I have long been a fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels and I have read every single one. They reach me in a way that I can find no comparison for and Small Great Things is no exception to this.
I approached this book with a certain degree of smugness, thinking that I would be able to read it as a casual observer, stay emotionally detached. I live in Australia, not the USA, and I’ve always considered myself to be, as Jodi puts it in the novel, “a person who doesn’t see colour.”
Turns out I was wrong.
Living in Australia did nothing to make me observe this story impartially, because everything that she raised within the pages of this novel is applicable here. And to think that I don’t see colour is naïve. I realise this, now that I’ve finished this book, and it’s an uncomfortable truth that is impossible to avoid. As tolerant and embracing as I would like to think that I am, the themes explored in miniature throughout Small Great Things will have most readers turning inward for analysis, and not necessarily coming up trumps.
Not that this is a bad thing. Not at all. It’s part of why I love Jodi Picoult’s books, and it’s definitely one of the main reasons why I loved this book. I admire Jodi enormously. Her bravery in giving the world this book may bestow many things onto her. I can see a great number of people thinking along the same lines as myself, but I can also see others becoming offended, defensive, and possibly even abusive. The entire story plucks at a nerve, one that runs deep within all of us, and like any stories that ask us to question our fundamental beliefs, some of us can handle it, and some of us can’t.
Even knowing this though, it would have been extremely easy for Jodi to just put this book into the too hard basket. I’m grateful that she didn’t. This is a book that will stand the test of time. It’s a book that will no doubt generate a lot of discussion for a quite some time, but after that, when the storm dies down, I sincerely hope that the world sees this book for what it truly is: a teaching tool.
The telling of this story was aided greatly with the addition of Turk Bauer’s perspective, the White Supremacist of this story. These sections were at times shocking and uncomfortable, but entirely necessary. Peering down through the layers of Turk’s hatred was an eye opening experience and his story shows how far a person can travel from who they are to who they want to be, if they just open themselves up to the possibility that everything they have ever learned might in fact be simply only a version of the truth.
Jodi Picoult’s novels are not always given to ‘happy endings’, but in the case of Small Great Things, the way this story wrapped up was most satisfying, indeed.
If you like a book that challenges you, makes you think and reflect, then Small Great Things is the novel for you. Thank you again Jodi Picoult for your bravery and narrative skill. We are all the richer for it.
Thank you to Allen and Unwin for providing me with an advanced copy of Small Great Things for review.
This review was previously published on Goodreads and Facebook in August 2016, but appears here, on Theresa Smith Writes, for the first time.