“The State just sees a dead baby. They’re targeting you because they think you failed as a nurse.”
“You’re wrong.” I shake my head in the darkness, and I say the words I’ve swallowed down my whole life. “They’re targeting me because I’m Black.”
Small Great Things is arguably the most important book Jodi Picoult has ever written; perhaps one of the most controversial, as well. A white woman writing about the struggles that people of colour face, telling a story about the realities of their lives … Bold, or just plain ignorant? Something, I realize, my opinion on does not matter. She has written another topical novel covering contemporary social justice issues with relatable characters and, her specialty, a gripping courtroom drama.
Prior to writing this book, Picoult read about a black female nurse in Flint, Michigan that had been dismissed by a white supremacist patient over her skin color. Feeling like racism is a topic that is too often swept under the rug these days and largely perceived (by white people) to be an issue of the past, she used this recent experience as the premise of her novel. Knowing it was not her story to tell, Picoult details how she interviewed people of colour to build the main character’s narrative so that it was based on genuine experiences and valid feelings. I think Picoult approached this topic with grace and did so in a respectable way; at least she definitely seemed to have the best intentions.
This thought provoking novel deals with the racism found in America today; found in every single place you look. She brings racism to the forefront of the story in a myriad of different ways; the overt racism that is white nationalist groups, swastikas and skinheads, and the everyday racism that is prejudice and undercutting actions, bundled in ignorance and served on a platter alongside power and white privilege.
The spotlight is shared by Ruth, a nurse of colour, Kennedy, a white lawyer and Turk, a skinhead. I struggled reading Turk’s perspective because I have zero interest in the thought processes of a person who throws around the n word like candy and who measures the worth of human beings based on the level of melanin in their skin or the God that they pray to. During his chapters, I found myself having to put the book down and take a few deep breaths before being able to pick it back up. Truthfully, I would rather pretend those people do not exist. But maybe, that is part of the point Picoult is trying to make…Firstly, being able to ignore those kinds of people means I am privileged enough to do so. Secondly, even if those swastika painting, confederate flag waving people didn’t exist… Racism still would.
I think the point of this book is to make us uncomfortably introspective and challenge our own behavior. And perhaps, effectuate change in those who read it. Of course it is going to take way more than a single book to generate the drastic changes that need to be made, but this book made me think. And any book that makes you think is a book well-worth reading.
“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” – Benjamin Franklin
Reviewed by: Christy (Contributor)
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