As promised, my first book review from the summer. Small Great Things is Jodi Picoult’s newest book and is actually not due out in the UK until November. I was fortunate enough to get a pre-release copy from NetGalley.
I read on my kindle, which is amazing for holidays for someone like me who can get through almost a book a day sometimes. But it is less good for glancing down to see what you are reading, or reading the book jacket before you start. So occasionally I start reading something without really knowing what it is, confident that I must have chosen it for a reason. This is particularly the case with some NetGalley books that don’t come up with all the details. And that was very much the case with this. It actually wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised who the author was. I am generally a fan of Jodi Picoult, but I say this to encourage those who don’t normally read her books to give this one a go.
I find that Picoult tends to broadly focus on relationships, particularly motherhood and babies. But she also deals with some really huge topics – the Holocaust, stem-cell research, disability etc. And this is no different. In Small Great Things, Picoult turns her pen to racism in contemporary America – and I mean very contemporary. There are a number of references to Obama and recent shootings of unarmed black men.
The book starts with a black nurse whose supervisor agrees to the request of a white supremacist and prevents Ruth from treating a baby on a maternity ward. When the baby goes into cardiac arrest and only Ruth is in the room, she hesistates before acting. The baby dies, and she ends up suspended and on trial. But her white lawyer wants to focus on the case, and not on racism.
The book deals with very obvious racism – the white supremacist and his family – but also more inherent racism, and the idea of white privilege. It questions how those who do not see themselves as racist deal with race, and looks at the idea of inbuilt racism in US society.
It’s hard to comment on American society as a Brit, even one who has lived there briefly. But for me, this was a fascinating insight into the race debate that we have seen some coverage of over here, particularly shootings and the Black Lives Matter protests. I wouldn’t want to say that it’s how race should be considered – that’t not my place – but it was a wonderful way to consider how racism presents itself and to look at the issue from a range of different perspectives.
In addition, being Jodi Picoult, it was a wonderfully well-written book, with interesting and complex characters and page-turning prose. I raced through it, as it was so good! It will be interesting to see how this is received in the US, written, as it is, from someone who has not experienced the racism described. But I would highly recommend it for someone who wants to get a better perspective on what’s going on.