Prather’s Pick: Picoult novel explores prejudice
Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite authors, and this week’s novel for adults may just be her best work. It’s a powerful novel about race and prejudice. “Small Great Things” was written in 2016, but it is a 2018 Ballantine Books Trade Paperback Edition.
The novel is narrated by three characters in alternating chapters throughout the book, providing the reader with the different points of view. It also provides the reader with character backgrounds and their views about the novel’s plot.
Ruth is a labor and delivery nurse at Mercy-West Haven Hospital. As the day’s shift begins, Marie, the charge nurse; Corinne, a second nurse; and Ruth are having their morning meeting to discuss patients and assignments. One mother has just given birth to a baby girl, another patient is in labor, and Brittany Bauer, a third patient in room 5, has just given birth to a son named Davis. She will be Ruth’s patient.
Ruth meets Brittany and her husband, Turk, then goes about the routine exam for Davis. All the time, she hears the whispering between Turk and Brittany. Finally, Turk says he wants to talk to Ruth’s boss.
Turk tells Marie he doesn’t want Ruth to touch his son again. Ruth is African American.
The Bauers are white supremacists.
Marie explains that Ruth has more than 20 years experience at the hospital, and it’s discriminatory to remove a provider from care because of race. But in the end, a Post-it is attached to the Bauer folder: “No African American personnel to care for this patient.”
However, a little later, Corinne and Marie are called away from the nursery, and Corinne asks Ruth to monitor Davis, who has just had a circumcision. There’s nobody else to do it.
Ruth notices Davis has stopped breathing. His skin is tinged blue. Ruth instinctively reaches down to tend to him, but then she remembers that she isn’t supposed to care for the baby. Questions run through her mind: “Is touching the baby caring for him? Can she lose her job? What is she supposed to do?”
In the end, Code Blue is called, and the entire team arrives. Marie orders Ruth to start compressions, but Davis dies. Ruth is charged with the baby’s death.
Kennedy McQuarrie is a public defender who takes Ruth’s case. She’s a white woman who believes race should be kept out of the courtroom. Odette Lawton, the prosecutor, is African American.
Main characters Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk are first-person narrators, giving the reader information about their past lives and their feelings concerning the resulting trial.
The reader attends Ruth’s trial, including courtroom testimony from witnesses. Picoult’s novels typically include twists, and this week’s book is no exception. The reader can’t help but keep turning the pages.
There is a lot to consider after reading “Small Great Things,” including Kennedy’s revelation of the difference between “equity” and “equality.” This is an outstanding book.
The paperback version of the book includes a short story featuring characters from “Small Great Things” in a time prior to the novel, a reader’s guide, an author’s note, and bibliography.
The paperback version of the book costs $17. It is also available in hardcover at the Craig branch of Moffat County Libraries.
Stories enrich our lives. We tell them, listen to them, read them, repeat them, write them, watch them on TV, enjoy them in theaters. Stories teach us, entertain us, make us laugh, ease our social situations, and cement our friendships.