My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is my third attempt to type up a review for Small Great Things, and the biggest reason why is because I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to say about it. In fact, I still don’t really know, but I figured the best I can do is tell you what I liked and what I didn’t, along with any other thoughts I may have along the way.
Small Great Things is told in three different POVs. The first is that of Ruth Jefferson, an African-American woman who has worked for twenty years as a labor and delivery nurse in a hospital in Connecticut.
The second is Turk Bauer, a white supremacist whose wife Brittany is a patient at the very hospital Ruth works in, and after watching in “horror and disbelief” as Ruth handles their baby not long after it’s born, they request to see her supervisor and ask that Ruth be removed from any further matters involving their child and themselves.
Third is that of Kennedy McQuarrie (whom I’ll add is white, because it does have a lot to do with the story as well), the public defender assigned to Ruth after the latter is accused of killing the Bauer’s baby (yes, the previously noted supremacist Bauers) after it dies, seemingly by Ruth’s hands, when she has the misfortune of being the only nurse available when the baby needs urgent care.
It was hard reading Turk’s accounts, because we’re not only reading his story in present-tense, but we have to endure reading about his past, and how his life led him to this point in which he has so much hatred for people that aren’t those of the “superior Aryan race”. But what you really come to notice about this man, is that he had a lot of hate, there is no denying that, but he seemed to almost be putting on a show. His actions always seemed to stem from his need to convince the ones he care about that he was important and needed in their lives. I’m so not going to use the fact that he was most definitely the stereotypical poster boy of what happens when you grow up without caring parents, cause ultimately, he allowed himself to become so twisted with hate, that he assumed Ruth was the cause of his baby’s death, because she was a woman of color, who touched his child when given explicit instructions (there’s no doubt that he’s chauvinistic enough to believe his word is law) not to.
I will say that Picoult did very well at creating this character who just made you cringe whenever he walked onto the page…but at the same time, there was this dimension to him that had me questioning him at times. Cause he could be so confusing…almost as if he had an ‘on’ switch for those moments when he’d be just awful, but then an ‘off’ switch when he’d show some odd tenderness and humanity. I guess I have to say that though I found his parts of the book to be hard to read, he was written extremely well, and is not a character you’d forget about.
I admit to also having a hard time with Ruth, and that was mostly because she became so resentful as the book went on. Now, I’m not saying she didn’t have a right to be angry, hurt, upset, or have any other negative emotions because of the mistreatment she’d received, but it grew tiring to read about the offensive thing a white person ‘said’ or ‘did’ when around her. Cause honestly, anyone and everyone is guaranteed to be offensive at one time or other. I know I’ve said things without meaning to, because unfortunately, I am an imperfect human like we all are.
And to further prove my point, I’ve had friends come to my Asian house and later tell me that it smelled weird (I know you know what I’m talking about if you aren’t Asian!), and ask me if my mom was “cooking something Chinese” (we’re Japanese, there is a difference, though I’m no longer surprised people always assume we’re every other Asian than the one we are, because that would be too easy, right?).
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I’ve already went off on a long enough tangent, so I’ll try to keep the rest of this short.
At this point, I think it’s safe to say that though this book had my thoughts and feelings all over the place, I really did like reading this. Sure, I was totally stressing over some of the things I’d read, and I probably would have ripped my hair out if this book hadn’t had a satisfying ending, but fortunately it did, and my hair is safe.
Jodi Picoult definitely knows what works for me in regards to my emotions. Even though all the books I’ve read from her tend to have the same basic formula, i.e. something happens, someone sues someone else, they go to court, book ends with satisfying ending or epilogue, I still feel like I’m reading something new. Her material doesn’t feel overdone or boring, and I always look forward to reading whatever new story she’s come up with. And it goes without saying that she is most definitely one of my favorite authors, and her books are always on my auto-buy list. Obviously I wouldn’t go this far in my gushing if I wouldn’t recommend this book, so read this book, and hopefully you like it as much as I did!
Thank you to Penguin Random House who gave me this copy via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.