Small, great things by Jodie Picoult

Wow. This was such an interesting book. Such a feel good, life affirming, heart wrenching story. But also such an important book.

Small great things tells the story of Ruth Jefferson, an African American nurse with over twenty years experience who finds herself on trial for the murder of a two day old baby boy. Ruth finds herself in this situation as the baby’s parents, who are white supremicists, express their desire that Ruth, the only black nurse on the ward, not be allowed to touch their baby. The hospital allows this to happen and disappointed and frustrated with this discrimination Ruth was moved to another case. However, the following day when all other staff are called to an emergency, Ruth comes across the baby boy struggling to breathe. She hesitates- should she follow the instructions of her lien manager and not touch the child, or should she attempt to help? Her line manager finds her standing there while the child turns blue. They work to save him. A senior doctor enters and tells Ruth she is being a little rough with her CPR. The parents walk in and hear this. The baby dies.

Ruth is thrown under the bus by the hospital she has worked for for twenty years who suggest to the parents that instead of suing the hospital they could go after Ruth herself.

And so Ruth Jefferson, hard working, middle class, with a husband who died in military service and a son who is on the honour roll and is applying for college, is arrested in the middle of the night and finds herself on trial for murder.

The story started out slow but by the time the trial came around I really couldn’t put this book down. It was such a thought provoking read and highlighted the struggles that millions of black people, and people of colour, face on a day to day basis.

It was so cleverly written. Ruth’s lawyer was white and wouldn’t have considered herself racist. But throughout the story she realises how much she doesn’t understand about Ruth’s life. One of my favourite moments was when Ruth took her lawyer, Kennedy, out shopping. Kennedy had assumed it was because Ruth wanted to talk on neutral ground, but in reality Ruth was trying to show Kennedy a little about the life she has lived. As they shop they are constantly questioned by members of staff who want to check that they are “ok”. And finally on leaving, a security guard demands to check Ruth’s – not Kennedy’s – bags to see that she hasn’t stolen anything. When Kennedy realises what is happening she is mortified as she hadn’t even thought twice about picking up a bag of crisps and eating them before reaching the till.

Another interesting moment happened when Kennedy asked her new apprentice (who is black) to do some reconnaissance work on their jury. She receives a phone call from him when he is staked outside a gated community. She tells him to get out the car and just peer over the wall. He insists that that wouldn’t be a very good idea “for someone like him”. And in an instant Kennedy realises why – images of Trayvon Martin spring to mind.

I found it so interesting and really associated with Kennedy’s character. A white middle class woman who wouldn’t consider herself racist but who genuinely doesn’t appreciate how differently people of colour live and some of the struggles they face on a day to day basis.

White privilege is a term that has been thrown around a lot and I never really appreciated its significance. But it rang really true with me this weekend. We went to the theatre to watch a play about the Who Wants to be a Millionaire cheating scandal. Charles Ingram and his wife Diana were found guilty and convicted of conspiracy to defraud the TV show by a jury after they cheated their way to £1million. Their sentence was 18 months in prison, suspended for 2 years. They never went to prison.

We watched this as I was halfway through this book and it got me thinking about how differently Charles And Diana Ingram would have been treated if they were were not white and middle class. Charles Ingram was a major in the British Army. If he had been a low paid black man would he have ended up in prison?

This book had a positive impact on me. It has made me aware of my privilege and gave me more of an insight into how people of colour can be the victims of unconscious bias on a daily basis.

Complete the phrase. “I am…” How did you finish it? Ginger, blonde, 5’ 2”, sporty, forgetful? If you are white you probably didn’t say “I am white.” Because that is assumed. However when you describe a person of colour that is probably one of the first things you are likely to pick out about them.

I am paraphrasing from the book now, but you get the point.

This is a great read. And a real eye opener and discussion point for the white middle classes. I loved the conclusion to the story and how each of the protagonists (the story is told from the POV of Ruth, Kennedy and the white supremicist father, Turk) learned something in the end and came out of the experience changed in some way.

If you get a chance to read this book then please do it!

One thought on “Small, great things by Jodie Picoult

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  1. I read this book last year. You are right, it IS a very important book. It made me very angry to read. But I have learned that the stronger my emotions to a book the better it is because it means the author did an amazing job!!!

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