“Did she???”… “Oh no she didn’t!” were my initial reactions as I turned the pages of the first quarter of Small Great Things before realizing that Picoult, pretty much a dictionary definition for “white girl”, just wrote a book about race and had the audacity to write from a black woman’s perspective. Oh yeah, she did it. And damn… she did it WELL (though FYI – I too am white, so get that grain of salt).
No easy task, and I can already hear the outrage when this book debuts, much like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, when readers abruptly halted, defiantly asking, “Wait. A white girl wrote that?” If you’re asking yourself that question, then give Picoult her due. Picoult will likely endure that same criticism, but I can’t think of a greater challenge for a writer, and I think Picoult gave the topic justice.
Ruth Jefferson, a black 20-year veteran labor and delivery nurse, shows up for work like any other day and performs her demanding job only to have a new father tell her to “get away from” his child. Ruth shockingly encounters a white supremacist family and is instructed by her superiors not to touch the baby, which is backed up by administration, labelling this decision as merely a “preference” (seriously?). Then, when the child stops breathing and Ruth performs CPR, she is unwittingly thrust into a fight for her life as she’s forced to defend her actions. Enter Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender who takes on Ruth’s case, thinking herself non-racist because she “doesn’t see color” (oh boy).
If you are white, you’re about to become really, really uncomfortable. I suspect if you’re black, you’re about to become really, really…not shocked. This book is entirely about race. Picoult has written this book at a racially-charge time where discussion is sorely needed. Honest discussion. Open discussion. By people of all races who truly seek a better world with legitimate equality.
Fundamentally, I disagree with Picoult’s assertion that racism requires power over another race as a distinction from prejudice (I believe racism begets racism), and I also took issue with Picoult lumping all white-officer-black-victim police shootings together as again, I feel that taking an outsider’s view and crying “racist” without looking at the individual cases is equally discriminatory. However, the fact that I’m thinking this, that readers will ask themselves these same questions, that book clubs will squirm in their seats over “if I should say this”? That means Picoult’s latest foray into relevant fiction is a resounding smash success. You go, white girl!
Recommend to: This is the “IT” book for your book club – you have to go there. You just HAVE to.
A HUGE thanks to NetGalley and Random House Ballantine for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. And for making me really, really uncomfortable. Because sometimes, we need to be.