Racism and White Privilege in Small Great Things

November 1, 2016 Book Review, reviews 12

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book nor the content of my review.

Racism and White Privilege in Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Published by Ballantine Books on October 11th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: complimentary review copy
AmazonBarnes & Noble

You say you don’t see color…but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.

Jodi Picoult never fails to deliver a novel that makes us think, makes us consider what we would do, how we would respond. It’s my favorite kind of book: the one that teaches me about myself and my community.

Small Great Things is the story of Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse for twenty years. She’s been a stellar employee and nurse and raised an honor student alone after her husband died serving in Afghanistan. By all appearances, Ruth is a model citizen and a genuinely great nurse. She is also African American.

Why does this matter?

It doesn’t. Except to Turk and Brittany, white supremacists who object to Ruth being the nurse for their newborn baby, Davis.

When circumstances arise that leave Ruth watching over Davis, the baby stops breathing, codes and ultimately dies.

I imagine you can guess what happens next.

Ruth is charged with murdering the baby as revenge.

Small Great Things is told in three alternating voices: Ruth, Turk, father of Davis and white supremacist, and Kennedy, the white public defender assigned to represent Ruth.

Each character is fully developed with a thorough back story. Reading how Turk came to be so filled with hate was a lesson in humanity. Kennedy thought she was not racist because she “didn’t see color.”. Her passion for social justice and winning Ruth’s case was a lesson in humanity. Which was more important: winning or compassionately understanding another person?

[Tweet “Compassionate novel of white privilege and racism by @jodipicoult”]

While the book is not without flaws, a few passages and actions seemed outside of reality, but, then again, isn’t that why we read? as an escape of reality?  Ambiguous endings are not a favorite for me and Picoult has been known to have a few those. Small Great Things gives us a shocking, yet also neatly wrapped ending. I think I’ve read every Jodi Picoult book, and while Leaving Time will probably always be my favorite, Small Great Things is a close second. It is relevant, a mirror for today’s society and told with depth and compassion.


*Many thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for the review copy.

12 Responses to “Racism and White Privilege in Small Great Things”

    • Stacy

      Thank you so much Marce! Small Great Things would be such an excellent book club read. There’s a lot of points to tackle and I can just imagine the discussions that would come out of a book club read.I’m going to keep an eye out of you to see if you review it – I’d love to know if it affects you as it did me. Thanks so much Marce!
      Stacy recently posted…Ultimate Stocking Stuffers for Readers + GiveawayMy Profile

  1. BermudaOnion (Kathy)

    I heard her speak at SIBA and she’s passionate about this book. I’m anxious to read this but have heard she tried to put too many issues in it. Still, it sounds like the kind of book that would make you think and I love that.
    BermudaOnion (Kathy) recently posted…Review: BirdseyeMy Profile

    • Stacy

      OH MY GOSH! Jodi was at SIBA?!? and I missed it! Geez! I’ve been so far out of the loop with moving and everything this year. How was she as a speaker? I had heard she’s pretty passionate about this book and that it’s based on a real-life case from Michigan several years ago.

      Yes, you’re right – there are a lot of issues in this book and I struggled with whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. I finally didn’t put it in my review because I’m thinking the many issues are all intertwined, taking one out unravels the entire tapestry. At least that’s the way I perceived it. Would love to know what you think if you do read this one!
      Stacy recently posted…Ultimate Stocking Stuffers for Readers + GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Kate @ Parchment Girl

    This was my very first Jodi Picoult novel. I’ve heard mixed things about her style, so I was a little hesitant about this one, but I absolutely loved it. It had a tendency to overstate itself sometimes, but in some ways I think that’s useful when you’re writing about race to a predominantly white audience.

    • Stacy

      What is really sad about it being so relevant today is that according to Picoult it’s based on a true story from 20 years ago. But yeah, I agree. It is completely relevant and on topic.

  1. Best Fiction Read in 2016

    […] Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult Buy the Book Amazon | Barnes & Noble Timely. Scary. And unfortunately, based on a true occurrence. […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge