Small Great Things

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult ($28.99, Ballantine Books)

"When Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse, enters the hospital room of Turk and Brittany Bauer to begin the routine care of their newborn baby, Ruth notices a change in the demeanor of the parents.  Minutes after leaving their room, Ruth is “reassigned to another patient.”   The following day the baby goes into cardiac distress and Ruth is the only nurse on the floor. When Marie, the head nurse returns, she finds Ruth standing in the nursery and Davis Bauer not breathing. So begins the story of internalized prejudice that percolates just beneath the surface of daily lives.

The hospital distances itself from Ruth and the order she was given from her supervisor that prohibited her from administering to baby Bauer.  With the death of their infant son Turk and Brittany file a civil lawsuit against Ruth believing she did administer to their son, causing his death. The state of Connecticut charges Ruth with negligent homicide. Enter Kennedy McQuarrie, a white attorney who takes on Ruth’s case and is oftentimes, for the reader, a source of comic relief in an intense telling of a story that explores racism and “white class privilege”.

As the story unfolds, Picoult takes us back to the childhoods of Ruth, Turk, and Brittany, and the events that shaped their adult lives. From the apartment of wealthy New Yorkers, where Ruth’s mother is the maid, to a small town in Vermont where Turk and Brittany are nurtured in the ways of white supremacy, Picoult gives the reader an opportunity to explore the most reprehensible beliefs that shape our lives and has at its root unresolved and powerful emotions. While portions of this book meander and are sometimes even predictable and melodramatic, Small Great Things is an engaging and powerful story.

This book and its author may be criticized from both sides of the racial divide, for her portrayal of African-Americans as well as white-class privilege. Small Great Things is a powerful and timely read that affords the reader the opportunity to examine the racial prejudices that fester just below the surface of our own lives. It is a story that examines the small, great things that separate us and prevent us from connecting as “human to human, friend to friend.

Reviewed by Inklings employee, Irene