Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction

It has been a while since I read one of Jodi Picoult’s books partly because she follows her tried and tested method, which once I’d read a few felt just a little too formulaic for me to fully enjoy. Typically there is a big event, a huge issue which naturally requires the reader to pick a ‘side’, a courtroom drama and a twist at the end, they also deal with huge issues, those that fortunately most of us don’t have to confront in our lives.

Small Great Things is no different but after a break of a few years, I enjoyed the story without the feeling that I’d read it before, albeit with a different issue at the heart. The big event is the tragic death of a baby, Davis just a couple of days old and had been born on the maternity ward where Ruth Jefferson is the only African-American on the staff of the small hospital. Brit and Turk are the baby’s parents and had met Ruth when she did the Davis’s initial checks after he was born. Ruth noticed a confederate flag tattooed on Turk’s arm shortly before he asked her to call her supervisor. The result of that chat was that a note was put on Davis’s notes stating that no African-Americans are to touch Davis. Ruth is hurt and annoyed, as well you can imagine, however when Davis stops breathing when she is the only one on duty she has to make a choice, does she resuscitate the baby or follow the order and leave him alone?

The story from there on in is told by Turk, a white supremacist, and Ruth, a widow and mother of the teenage Edison. We hear all about both their pasts which go some way to explaining how they reached where they are today. There is lots of information about them both but with a court case looming over the baby’s death I’d have to say that Ruth’s is far more prominent although Turk’s gave me insight to a world I have never encountered.

Jodi Picoult has clearly researched her subject matter and this is a book that makes you think, for me more about the difference between passive and aggressive racism. But here’s the crux of the matter, no matter how good the story is, I really don’t read to be preached at, and Ruth’s tale and the book’s message, is far from subtle. Ruth of course has led a blameless life and the subtext is that she’s only got her successful life by denying her colour and blending in, unlike her sister Adisa who is only too quick to point out the injustice in modern day America.

By the time we get to the courtroom, Turk conveniently being represented by a woman of colour while Ruth’s attorney is a young white American who has fought to take the first murder trial of her entire career, the drama hots up and despite being given another nudge to make sure I didn’t forget what the issue was, I have to admit I couldn’t stop turning the pages to find out how it was all going to turn out. Yes there was the twist and a touching ending.

There is no doubt at all that Jodi Picoult is an accomplished story-teller, the revelations about the characters that inhabit this book are well-paced, and if you want a book that makes you think, allows you to stand in another person’s shoes, her books are very appealing. Overall I really enjoyed Small Great Things, but although I like being challenged in my views, and I was by this book, I need a little more space to allow me to come to my own conclusion rather than having one imposed upon me.

Small Great Things will be published later this month and I was lucky enough to be given a copy by the publishers Hodder & Stoughton. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 November 2016
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

37 thoughts on “Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

  1. I really liked this book too and agree about needing space to develop your own views. I don’t think picoult did that as well here as she has in other books but I still really enjoyed it.


  2. I’ve never read anything by her – somehow her books always felt too much like the kind of thing recommended by women’s magazines. My mum has just given me Her Sisters Keeper and I’m trying to decide whether to,read or pass to a charity shop. Any thoughts?


    1. I know what you mean but personally I think generally they are of a higher quality than you are anticipating. I read My Sister’s Keeper after I’d read a few, and so was able to predict the outcome to a certain extent. Plain Truth which I read first was my favourite of them all.


  3. A very diplomatic closing sentence! I’ve read a couple of Picoult’s novels and would agree with that verdict completely. She tends to hit you over the head with her point – I’m not so diplomatic!


    1. Haha – despite the fact that this had an important message, there is really no need, if the reader can’t get the point without being so forthright then I don’t think they would have the necessary skills to examine their own behaviour/views!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great review, Cleo. You have sparked my interest in the author. I have never read any Picoult either because of what you mention: she deals with issues that most of us would rather not encounter in life. However, this story feels so necessary right now that I think it would be the perfect place to start reading Picoult.


  5. I know what you mean, Cleo, about liking a little space to make up your own mind about an issue. And a story is far, far more absorbing, I think, if the characters are complex enough so that you really do have to make up your own mind. Still, this one sounds compelling, and I like the premise quite a lot. Glad you found some things to enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Nope, I’ve heard many people say they don’t read her anymore which is a shame because some of her older books were really good. I think maybe she should’ve stuck with more storytelling and less preaching of social issues

        Liked by 1 person

  6. (Long-time lurker; first-time poster.)

    Here in the States, Picoult is getting called out for a number of things–most especially the implication that being a nurse in a small hospital is considered a huge “success” for a black nurse, whereas such a job would be considered only adequate or possibly just a stepping stone for a white nurse. In addition to which, anyone who has been hospitalized anywhere in America in the past two decades knows that it is virtually impossible to ensure that no one of color will not be part of your treatment and that no hospital would ever agree to the demands of racist patient (for legal and “perception” reasons, if not for the moral position). There’s also the question of why there would only be a single nurse working a particular shift–although I’m sure Picoult figures out a way to explain that. Finally, it tends to be tricky for white writers to inhabit the lives of non-white characters–as you note, they seem to make them either saints or caricatures, somehow not fully human. I’ve read a few Picoult books, but I don’t think this would be one for me.


    1. HI Deb – so good to hear from you especially about this book and from the perspective of someone living in the states. To answer the points you’ve highlighted:
      I don’t think a big thing was made of her being a ‘success for being a nurse’ it was more the point that by doing so she was providing a better life for her son, especially in comparison to his cousins.
      I had wondered if that sort of notice was allowed, it wouldn’t be in the UK, and so thank you, and Rita for confirming that this is not a dilemma that would happen in ‘real life’
      Of course there was a neat way around her being left alone with the baby and in this instance it was plausible and it should be noted that the question of what happened next is not as clear cut as it might seem…
      I can see why she can be criticised for writing about another race but I do think she did it with the best of intentions and if it makes someone who is white pick up the book and think a little, I personally think at least she has tried to understand another position, even if to do so she may be a little heavy-handed.
      I’m glad I read the book, I consider myself far from racist but I live on a tiny island where I suspect that over 99% are Caucasian (and those that aren’t tend to be highly successful, including a very close friend), so I can’t claim to have my finger on the pulse, but it did make me think about the passive racist elements that were introduced. An interesting topic which was spoilt a little for me by being preached at – I am able to draw my own conclusions and I think because she’s chosen a topic this time which touches us all, this aspect of her writing was even more noticeable than when she wrote about designer babies or school shootings etc.
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments, you have probably prompted my longest reply ever 😉


  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Cleo. I did actually enjoy this one, too, and didn’t feel the tone was preachy, but then, I already feel strongly about the issues. I can see how her message might feel like a hammer’s blow sometimes.


    1. Thank you Laurel and this reminded me how well this author spins a tale and gets her readers involved. I have an aversion to being told what to think which prompted my comments, in fact my boss was talking to me over the phone the other day and in an unguarded moment said something along the lines of ‘as much as you will ever be told what to do’ and he didn’t mean I was difficult (I don’t think) he just knows I like to come to my own conclusion – in this book that is clear cut but I found the scenes between Ruth and her attorney difficult as this was where the most prominent examples of preaching occurred.


  8. I used to read every single one of her books years ago and really enjoyed them… until I saw that there was a formula set up for each story, and a big conclusion, followed by a quiet twist at the end.

    I would be interested in overlooking that & picking up this one because of the racism angle– which I feel strongly against– but I find it hard to believe that a medical professional wouldn’t save a baby’s life, despite a note in the chart stating otherwise! I also find it hard to believe that a hospital would allow such a note in the chart, if this is set in present day. I have relatives in medical, law enforcement, & legal professions, and from the info I glean from conversations with them, I find it too unbelievable… but then again I need to have more information about the plot before judging… so maybe I should read it just to satisfy my curiosity. Thanks for stirring that up!


    1. Thank you Rita – I’m glad it wasn’t just me and to be fair the few years break helped enormously in the formulaic aspect.
      Like Deb above I’d seriously wondered whether that was allowed in the US, it wouldn’t be in the UK so I’m guessing it was inserted as poetic licence – and you’ll have to read the book to find out what really happened when she was left alone with the baby…
      I’m glad I read it as this is an issue that touches us all and she is a strong writer who can get you involved in a storyline that is moving, tragic and controversial.


  9. To be honest I gave up on her books also but this one is calling me. I think it will be a fantastic book club read but I have already chosen Behind Closed Doors for them, HA they will hate it.

    It seems Jodi Picoult book is timely in the world also, definitely a 2017 read for me. Great review Cleo.


  10. Great review! I’ve heard a lot about this one but I’m a little undecided about reading it. I’ve not read any of Picoult’s work, however, so maybe this would be a good place to start.


  11. I haven’t read a Jodi Picoult book in so long! I have seen this one, and I’m tempted to pick it up. Your review is great and I agree how it takes time in between to read them since some give you the same kind of big issue feelings.


  12. Great review Cleo! I’ve read this book recently as well but in a different way…I was sent a copy of the book with no title, cover image, author or synopsis and asked to simply #readwithoutprejudice. It was an interesting way to read, for sure but by the end I thought to myself – this is like something Jodi Picoult would write!! 😆


  13. This book reminds me of Grisham’s A Time to Kill,a thriller with race as the main theme. I have read a few of Jodi’s books and she does tend to lean towards emotional reads though she does tackle some really heavy themes. I liked Nineteen Minutes which was about a school shooting. This one sounds like my kind of book although the preachy approach is not appealing.However, I will check it out when I get a chance.Thanks for sharing this insightful review.


  14. Hi, I’ve have just finished reading this book and I loved it. I’m a new mum of a 5 month old so it was quite hard to read some parts but it had me hooked. I am a massive fan of Picoults and I’ve read all her books. I think she has outdone herself this time though and it actually made me think about my views on racism. Anyone who likes this topic should check out Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses. It is based on racism but not in the way we think. Looking forward to the next edition from Picoult 🙂


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