Book Review: Great Small Things – Jodi Picoult

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“You say you don’t see colour…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.”

When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.Small Great Things is about prejudice and power; it is about that which divides and unites us. It is about opening your eyes.

I have to start by saying that I have had the release date of this novel written down since it was known. I’m a HUGE Jodi Picoult fan and have been lucky enough to speak to the lady herself a few years ago when The Storyteller was released. Jodi’s novel is a particularly prominent in light of the violence we have been seeing pouring out of the US against black people, and how quickly things can turn nasty. I requested a copy of this novel from the publishers and was lucky enough to receive it in return for an honest review.

As with all Jodi Picoult novels, the story is seen through the eyes of multiple characters. Ruth is a trusted and hardworking nurse, she is also African American. Turk is a husband, new father and White Supremacist. When baby Davis dies, Turk wants the hospital to pay and to know why the woman he demanded not be near his son was present. Ruth is thrown into a world of accusation and uncertainty, can she finally face the fact that the world might not be as colour blind as she thought? Meanwhile, lawyer Kennedy has her eyes opened to the world in a way that she couldn’t understand.

Once again Picoult has chosen to write about a moral situation that raises a thousand questions. It’s something completely new to me to read from the perspective of a White Supremacist. While there is a fair amount of novels out there from the perspective of a black person facing prejudice, novels that I want to read and to understand. I never would have picked up something from the perspective of a White Supremacist, because I didn’t see the point. Why would I want to read about hatred? However, Picoult manages to show the humanity in everyone. She doesn’t paint Turk and his wife as someone to disregard because of their views, nor does she sugar coat them. I felt angry and uncomfortable reading Turks perspective, but I realised that this was important, because this is what people face. That said, Ruth is not painted as perfect either. While she is a model citizen, the widow of a fallen hero and loving mother, Picoult shows her reactions in a human way. She shows not only what people would expect of the characters, whether that be in a positive or negative way, but also shows them as real people who make judgements, mistakes etc.

That said, Ruth is not painted as perfect either. While she is a model citizen, the widow of a fallen hero and loving mother, Picoult shows her reactions in a human way. She shows not only what people would expect of the characters, whether that be in a positive or negative way, but also shows them as real people who make judgements, mistakes etc. While I understand why Kennedy was included as a point of view, she wasn’t particularly memorable for me. She added a middle ground to the novel but I didn’t feel particularly affected by her until the very end.

This is without a doubt an important modern novel, it’s been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird (one of my favourite novels of all time) and while I understand the comparison, it’s different. To Kill a Mockingbird had a clear right and wrong, you knew who was innocent and who was guilty. While few people would agree with Turk and his beliefs (and I certainly don’t agree with them) the emotions, thoughts and to some extent certain backstories make you unclear about all parties. Picoult has refused to show a clear cut good vs bad situation.

I gave this novel 4 stars. I really enjoyed it and I thought the concept was incredibly unique as well as very well written. That said I had mixed feelings about some parts towards the end of the novel, some I just felt didn’t fit (I wish I could go into more detail than that!), but I think this is down to personal preference rather than a flaw in the writing/plot. Picoult has once again shown that she is not afraid to confront issues that we might not want, or feel too awkward to talk about. She’s cemented her status as one of the most thoughtful and intelligent writers of the 21st century.

Great Small Things is out in the UK on November 22nd!

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