Small Great Things

in Culture Insight

Jodi Picoult has been one of my favourite authors for as long as I can remember. She writes with a sensitivity and respect for exceptionally difficult subject matters that truly takes my breath away at times. Small Great Things is no exception. 

Ruth is a midwife at a Connecticut hospital. She has seen a great deal in the twenty plus years of her career, and a routine check-up on a newborn baby surely does not faze her. However, she is abruptly reassigned to another patient, for no other reason than the fact that she is African American, and the baby’s parents are white supremacists. Ruth is understandably shocked and hurt by this decision, but ultimately respects the hospitals’ wishes and quietly moves along to the next patient, not wishing to cause a fuss. Suddenly, the newborn goes into cardiac distress, whilst Ruth is alone on shift at the nursery. Ruth is faced with a choice, whether to intervene or not, the outcome of which will have severe consequences. 

As readers, we can almost come to expect that Picoult’s novels can at times become formulaic: a major human rights issue is explored in direct relation to the protagonists, some type of dilemma occurs, and a court-case ensues. I admire the great lengths that Picoult goes to in her research about the legalities of her subject matters, in this case, racism and its impact on institutions. She also delves into medical malpractice, which is a nuanced topic, and the human rights of minors. 

Picoult is an empathetic and emotionally intelligent writer. She presents her characters in ways that are not judgemental, but rather lay their triumphs and flaws bare for the reader to guzzle up, all at once, and make up their own minds. This book is a challenging read; it made me very uncomfortable in parts. However, I would argue that books, as with any art form, should inspire some type of reaction in the reader, even if it is distressing. 

I do have a slight gripe with the ending, as I feel it is perhaps too idealistic, but that was the author’s artistic choice and I have to respect her craft. I suggest reading the Author’s Note at the end, to really make sense of the epilogue. 

This is a divisive book, which has received much mixed opinion on popular book review websites. I will agree that this is not a book for everyone, due to how intense and thought-provoking the content is. Nevertheless, Small Great Things is a powerful and important read, particularly relevant in today’s social climate, and I hope it is one you will enjoy, dear reader.  

Avid reader and book lover Kim has worked as a librarian in the public sector as well as schools.

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