“Equality is treating everyone the same. But equity is taking differences into account, so everyone has a chance to succeed.”
Small Great Things takes place in present-day America, where unfortunately racial issues are still a problem. Ruth Jefferson is a light-skinned African American labor and delivery nurse at a small hospital in Connecticut. She has 20 years’ experience in her field and is more than qualified to take care of any patient that walks through the hospital doors. She thought she had seen it all until the morning she met Turk Bauer. Turk and Brittany had just had their first child, Davis, a few short hours before Ruth came into work for the start of her shift. As usual, she is passed the patient file as the previous nurse leaves for her shift, now leaving Ruth as Brittany and Davis’ nurse for the day. She walks into the room and does her duty as she has done many times before. As the reader, you can already tell something is… off. As Ruth finishes the routine procedure on newborn baby Davis, she readies Brittany to start nursing, but that is before Turk orders Ruth to get away from Brittany. As white supremacists, Turk and Brittany automatically dislike African-Americans, Jews, and homosexuals, anyone who is not like them and therefore, does not want Ruth anywhere near his child. This small problem turns into a large one once Ruth finds herself in a courtroom as a defendant in a tragic crime involving the Bauers.
When I first read the summary, I’m not going to lie, I thought it was set in the fifties. But I was wrong. As an African American myself, I learned a lot about race in this book. Racism is real. Point blank period. Jodi Picoult does a wonderfully amazing job tackling the issue at all angles: narrating this story as an African American, as Caucasian, and as a racist. She puts the reader in each pair of shoes as the main characters in this book and it helps the reader understand more. It puts you into their minds, to see how they think, to see the truths behind closed doors.
Jodi’s storytelling is immaculate. You feel every emotion. Every word brings you a step closer to another page and just like that you’re done. That’s what a great book does, it ends when you expect it, but you don’t see it coming.
The only nitpick I have about this book is a small one. And deals with what happens toward the end. It comes out of nowhere and is a bit farfetched in my opinion, that little plot twist didn’t work for me, but all in all, it was a surprising touch.
Usually, when I get ready to read a book, I read the summary and get to reading. But something told me to read the author’s note, and I did. And by the time I finished the book, 2 years ago, I felt the same way Jodi felt. I felt like Kennedy, Ruth’s Caucasian lawyer, ignorant to the problems black people face on a daily because of the amount of melanin in their skin. Some may wonder, how can I say this, as a black woman myself, I’m sure to have been the victim of some sort of racial discrimination. But I cannot think of a time where I was. I live in the city, surrounded by people who look like me, by minorities, brown, black, yellow, orange and blue. Even at my university, minorities flanked me on every side. It is actually out of a blue moon when I encounter a Caucasian person, and I mean WHITE. Because of this, it has shielded me from a racial encounter or having me feel less than because of the color of my skin. I’ve never a victim, but a bystander behind a television screen watching racial issues rise and rise on the news. So, when I flipped through the pages of this book, reading from Ruth’s perspective, I thought to myself, is that really how it feels? Why haven’t I ever felt like this? Why was I never followed around in stores, or intentionally asked for my receipt? I never felt like I had to work twice as hard like Ruth. Even though I am black, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced being black, at least compared to Ruth’s experiences.
I believe Jodi did justice to Ruth’s character, as a woman, as a hardworking mother, as an African American. As a reader, she made me think, she made me question my knowledge of racism, both active and passive, all forms of racism. Just like Kennedy, but unlike Kennedy, I was ignorant of new age racism, never had to go through it, so I didn’t understand, but I had some knowledge.
Small Great Things is more than a riveting story, it is a cry for change for everyone. It is a book written for all who’ve been swept to the side because of their blackness, it is a book written for the white people who see racism, but don’t understand it, because of lack of experience, which many will say is a privilege. Jodi, I commend you for writing this book, for having the passion and fire to write something about a topic so very delicate. Hopefully, the conversation will indeed spread.