Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Possibly the best book Picoult has written: it comes highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512/16h41m Date: November 2016
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1444788006

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The Richard and Judy Book Club Summer 2017

Ruth Jefferson is a nurse. She looks after new mothers and their babies and she's the sort of nurse that you hope you'll encounter when it's your turn or the turn of anyone close to you. She cares and she's good at her job, very good, in fact. Turk and Brittany Bauer and their new son, Davis, were under her care, only Turk took strong exception to Ruth having anything to do with their child: Turk and Brittany were white supremacists - and Ruth Jefferson was black, an African American, and despite all her experience she was banned from caring from Davis Bauer.

This might have passed off with nothing more serious than Ruth's hurt feelings, but then Ruth had been black for 44 years and she knew that this was one of the insults which 'people of colour' had to take on a daily basis. Except - fate intervened. There was a staffing shortage, an emergency and Ruth was left as the only person available to watch Davis after a minor surgical procedure. Davis Bauer died - and there was one person available to conveniently take the blame. Ruth was charged with murder.

There are two subjects which I find difficult to read about: cruelty to animals and extreme racial discrimination. I started reading Small Great Things about a month ago and I had to put it down because it was simply too painful - painful not just because of what Ruth and her son were put through but because of what it made me realise about myself. I was brought up to be racist by parents who denied that they were racist - they were simply ensuring that I abided by the well-known fact that anyone who was not white was naturally inferior and to be avoided at all costs. I've fought all my adult life against the reasoning which was hard-wired into me and my initial reading of Small Great Things made me realise just how far I still had to go.

Once I gave myself a firm talking to and started reading again, I simply couldn't put the book down and read it in a couple of days. Here at Bookbag Towers, we've been impressed by Jodi Picoult's writing before, but I think this is the best book she's written. The question of race and privilege is so often the elephant in the room which no one manages to talk about, but Picoult looks at the question from different points of view: the white supremacist, the privileged white family who have benefitted from the advantages which they've had at the expense of the African American population, the public defender who has given up much to help 'people like you' and the black person who thought she was a respected member of the community, but finds that it was a mirage.

It was a profoundly affecting read and one which rather surprised me. It was Jodi Picoult, so I knew that I would be getting a top class story which had been superbly researched. What I wasn't expecting was that it would clarify my thoughts about race, privilege and power - and in a small way allow me to forgive myself for the steps which I haven't yet managed to take. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Small Great Things has been compared to To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It says a lot that I'm prepared to consider the comparison. You might also enjoy The Help by Kathryn Stockett. You might enjoy A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava but our reviewer wasn't convinced.

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