If you’re looking for a light fluffy read that will not engage your mind, skip Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult – or anything else she has written for that matter. I’ve read Picoult books often and knew that both my mind and emotions would be engaged when I received this book in an ARC. I just didn’t know what the issue would be.
I quickly found myself in the heads of her three principal narrators – Turk, the skinhead father who has a demand placed in his new baby’s folder that no African American attend him; Ruth, the experienced African American nurse who disregards the order when she is the only one present when the child goes into distress; and Kennedy, the public defender who takes Ruth’s case when the baby dies and she is charged with murder.
She sets up her premise in the first sentence, “The miracle happened on West Seventy-Fourth Street, in the home where Mama worked.” She continues that theme and foreshadows the story line at the end of the first chapter, “. . . where all the differences in schooling and money and skin color evaporated like mirages in the desert. Where everyone was equal, and it was one woman, helping another. That miracle, I’ve spent thirty-nine years waiting to see again.”
I’d finished about three-fourths of the book when Jodi Picoult appeared on CBS This Morning. She said the idea had come from a real situation, and she had expanded it into a novel. The title came from a phrase attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” She answered my speculation about how she had so much empathy and understanding for each of her characters in an explanation of how much research time she’d spent with people who were her narrator’s equivalents.
She said each of these narrators has to examine their beliefs about power, privilege, and race. Readers may find themselves doing the same thing in this novel that keeps them on edge and turning pages. This newest of Picoult’s books, released on October 11, lives up to the expectations and best-selling status of her previous novels. I highly recommend it unless you’re looking for something fluffy.