Small Great Things-Picoult   Leave a comment

I found the latest novel by Jodi Picoult available in my library, and having enjoyed ‘my sister’s keeper, I decided to give it a go.

Jodi Picoult is a Jewish-American writer, who has a real heart for advocacy, and many of her books reflect this. My Sister’s Keeper considered childhood cancer, whereas this novel discusses racism in its many forms head on.
Although the story is told from the viewpoint of several characters, the central character is Ruth Jefferson, a labour and delivery nurse with many years’experience, working in a Connecticut Hospital. During a normal work day, Ruth experiences a racist incident, when she is asked by a patient and her partner to no longer care for their baby, merely because she is black.
Ruth’s boss is intimidated by the young father, an acknowledged white supremacist, and marks the baby’s file with a note that agrees Ruth is not to administer care to the baby.
After the baby has been circumcised, several days later, he is to be monitored by a nurse, but there is an emergency and the only nurse available is Ruth. When the baby then goes into arrest Ruth is trapped, what should she do? Follow her instincts and vocation and help the baby, but lose her job, or stand back and watch the baby die?
In the fall out of this incident the father of the baby is encouraged to sue the hospital and later the nurse for malpractice. Suddenly there are policemen at Ruth’s door at 2am dragging her away and assaulting her teenage son. Her world turns upside down. Who can she turn to? Who will understand?
The story follows the lawsuit through the build-up and various stages, telling the story through Ruth’s eyes and that of her middle class white lawyer as they struggle to understand and trust each other. Ruth’s family and young son all enter the mix. The story also tells the point of view of the white supremacist parents, Turk and Brittany Bauer, describing their terrible grief, their anger, but also telling the tale of how they came to hold their views.
Picoult claimed to have done a lot of research for the book and that it had challenged her greatly, as she saw herself as a white middle-class American and realised how far from Ruth’s experiences was her own life. I have no idea how it was received by the black community, but the NY times slammed it.
Personally, I was very challenged by it, the story both gripped and horrified me in turn. The experiences of Ruth touched me deeply, as a white middle-class English person I am even further removed from the situation. I felt Picoult did a great job bridging the gap, which she did using the relationship between the lawyer, Kennedy, and Ruth. The scenario when they both go shopping in the store was so graphic and made a deep impact on me, and perhaps explained more clearly than whole chapters of description might have.
The book challenged me and moved me, what else can you ask of fiction. Read it!

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Posted September 25, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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