I grabbed Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things mostly by chance – it happened to be on sale at my local supermarket, and I knew it had good reviews in the newspapers.
The question of good reviews is, of course, a complex one. Having finished reading the book, I went to Goodreads to see what the readers had to say there. And though overall, the rating was pretty good – there was quite a spread of reviews: from ones claiming that the book was awful at accurately representing a black person’s perspective, to ones suggesting it was all leftist rubbish anyway.
The subject of the book is indeed one that was sure to attract controversy. A black nurse, Ruth, is forbidden to take care of a baby of a white supremacist couple. The baby dies on Ruth’s shift and Turk, the father of the child is persuaded that it’s the nurse’s fault. Kennedy, a lawyer is called to defend the nurse – but is she really as devoid of prejudice as she seems to think herself?
The story is told from three perspectives: Ruth’s, Turk’s, and Kennedy’s. It includes plenty of retrospectives that give us Ruth and Turk’s psychological and educational background. Kennedy mainly sticks to the present, and I suspect that she is similar to Picoult’s main intended audience – white and well-educated. Thanks partially to the pacing of those retrospectives, (including Turk’s memory of beating up his own father and Ruth’s experience of being educated in an almost completely white school), the book is a bit of a page-turner.
Picoult is very skilled at contrasting different points of view and I was really impressed with her craft as a writer. This is the first novel of hers that I’ve read and I would not say no to reading more.
All in all, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading around this book (reviews, articles etc), as I can’t quite make up my mind as to what I think about it. Roxane Gay’s review of it in the New York Times is pretty much perfect: “The novel is messy, but so is our racial climate. I give Picoult a lot of credit for trying.”
Have you read it? What did you think of it?