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.