book review small great things by jodi picoult

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way”

Martin Luther King Jr.

The title of this novel comes from a Martin Luther King Jr. quote which Ruth’s mother says to her the night before she leaves for college.

Ruth is a labor and delivery nurse, and by all accounts, a very good labor and delivery nurse with twenty years of experience. One morning Ruth goes on shift and starts caring for a newborn baby like she has done hundreds if not thousands of times before. But, this baby’s parents, Turk and Brit, are white supremacists and Ruth is African American. The events of the next twenty-four hours will change the lives of Ruth and her son Edison, Turk and Brit, and Kennedy McQuarry, the public defender assigned to represent Ruth.

Each chapter of this novel is told from the perspective of Ruth, Turk, or Kennedy. Through Ruth’s narrative we learn how despite doing everything ‘right’ like getting an education, living in a ‘good’ neighborhood, and being a respectable professional, she is ultimately unable to escape the color of her skin and the stereotyping that people of color face.

Turk and Brit’s perspective made me think about how growing up in an environment of racial prejudice could impact your views of people. If you are told from childhood how important it is to protect the purity of your race and how people not of your race are lesser than you then that must have a profound effect on shaping your thinking.

Finally, from Kennedy we see how even a liberal do-gooder can be oblivious to the white privilege that she benefits from on a daily basis.

I found this novel to be thought-provoking and liked the story unfolding from the varying perspectives of the three main characters. This is the first book by Jodi Picoult that I have read and I liked it well enough that I will definitely add more of her books to my ‘to read’ shelf.