Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things portrays three very different people in modern-day Connecticut navigating the complexities of race and the justice system.
Ruth Jefferson is a single black mother with over 20 years of experience as a labor and delivery nurse. She loves her job, and she’s amazing at it. So it comes as a shock when she’s removed from the care of a newborn because of the color of her skin.
The newborn’s father, Turk Bauer, is a white supremacist with a penchant for violence. When there’s a complication with his son’s circumcision, he sues Ruth for negligence*.
Kennedy McQuarrie, a white upper-class lawyer, is Ruth’s public defender. While she means well, she continually stumbles through her relationship with Ruth, both as a lawyer and a friend.
The novel follows Ruth as she experiences the trial and the complex relationships she has with her son, her sister, and her white “friends”. We get a troubling peek into the mind of a violent white supremacist. We watch as Kennedy navigates the difficult journey to truly understanding racism present in her own life and in the justice system.
Please take caution when reading Small Great Things if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Racism/racial slurs (very frequent)
This book is fantastic. It’s unbelievably moving – expect to cry more than once. I picked up Small Great Things because I was intrigued by the idea that a white woman was writing from the perspective of a black woman, something that could prove to be treacherous and deafening to black women’s’ stories. Fortunately, she navigates the complexities of race and racism beautifully.*
Following Ruth through her day-to-day life as a black woman in a very white world was so moving. It opened my eyes to the subconscious racist tendencies within my own life and in my communities and, more importantly, to the struggles that people of color have to deal with every day at the hands of white people – well-meaning friends, bosses, neighbors.
Turk’s story is hard to read – he uses racial and homophobic slurs frequently – but so interesting. His story reminds you that people with such radical beliefs do exist and cause a great deal of harm. Learning about the inner workings of a white supremacist group is morbidly fascinating, as well.
Kennedy’s story will hit close to home for white female readers. She tries so hard to prove to her client that she’s not racist – she “‘do[es]n’t even see color'” (p. 195). All the while, she’s acting and speaking on internalized prejudices that she can’t even identify are there. The evolution of her belief that race has no place in the courtroom, and that it doesn’t affect the justice system, is also very compelling.
Overall, the story is beautifully written and will hold your attention, and the court scenes are very interesting. The writing is at an average adult level so is an easy read in that respect. I love that the story is written from three perspectives, which allows you to see the same scene three different ways. The stories of a black woman, a white supremacist, and a “normal” white woman work together beautifully. I highly recommend Small Great Things. Even if you don’t care about the social impact of the story, you’ll still be moved and entertained.
Thanks so much for stopping by to hear my thoughts on Small Great Things. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya!