“It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”
Blurb: “When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.”
Jodi Picoult is a writer whose work I’m frequently been told to read. However, none of her material every really appealed to me; and that’s no fault of Jodi, it’s just not a genre I often reach for. Although, after being interested in the topic of this one, and after reading a chapter sampler on my kindle, this quickly changed.
Small Great Things follows an African-American nurse named Ruth who works on a birthing ward. She’s worked in this role for twenty years and turns up to work like any normal day and is assigned her patient for the day: a woman who had her baby overnight. Ruth tends to the new-born, performing the necessary examinations only for the angry father to request to see her manager. He doesn’t want “someone who looks like Ruth” touching his baby. Ruth is moved to another patient and when an unfortunate situation results in the death of the baby she’s banned from looking after, the finger is swiftly pointed at her.
The story focuses on a rather serious and relevant situation which sadly many go through on a daily basis. With many readers expressing a need for more diverse books and a more diverse publishing industry, this book (after a discussion with my #FeminisminYA* friends on twitter) has very mixed views. Jodi Picoult is a white woman writing about a character who faces racism; something that she has not personally experienced. The plot is also inspired by a real life event that enraged Picoult so much she simply had to write about it but fictionalised the events and character motivations that led to the court case. There are some readers who feel that white writers should use their position to include POC characters in their works (with writers often shamed for not including them) but there are others who feel that issues of racism and differing cultures should be left to those who experience them and live them every day; regardless of how much “research” is put into it. After speaking to the aforementioned #feminisminya group I rethought why it is that I like this book so much.
The book is told in multiple perspectives: Ruth (the nurse), Turk (father of the baby) and Kennedy (Ruth’s Lawyer). I truly believe this was the best way for the story to be told as it covers very different viewpoints and each one is so well written that I don’t think it could have been shared in any other way. The reader can learn more about Ruth’s backstory and why she wanted to become a nurse and why Turk is so against anyone who isn’t white. But, as a white woman, the only character I can really discuss the accuracy of is Kennedy.
Kennedy is a character who really means well. She has a husband, a daughter, a thriving career, and she really does believe that everyone should be treated well regardless of their skin colour. However, she is prone to slip ups and saying things that she believes are helping when really they are doing the opposite. Through reading her chapters, I noticed similarities between her and myself, including some phrases and points she’d expressed. Her chapters were so important in showcasing things that are so engrained into white society and it made me sit back and think so many times.
And that is why I loved this book: because it got me thinking.
I feel like I have gained more of an understanding through my process of reading this book though it saddens me that cases such as these appear too often in the media. I urge you to read this book but I also urge you to listen to the people who are screaming at the top of their lungs yet to some of us, it’s merely a whisper.
*#Feminisminya is a weekly twitter chat discussing various themes within YA books. It takes place Tuesdays 7:30pm on Twitter under this hashtag and everyone is free to join in*
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