‘Small Great Things’ Book Review 

Diya Basima, Staff Writer

Often when I am reading a book that focuses on racism in America, the story comes off as desperately didactic. When the authors themselves are not a person of color, they often struggle with portraying an accurate understanding of the “black experience.” We watch as the story loses focus of its original goal as it becomes a desperate attempt to address every racial disparity in America.  

This is not the case in Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. Picoult forces her readers to open their eyes to not only the blatant racism that makes the headlines on the evening news, but also the institutionalized racism and micro-aggressions that happen right under our noses. Picoult proves that ignorance is not only bliss but a privilege. 

Ruth Jefferson is a black woman who has been a labor and delivery nurse for more than 20 years. She is a Yale graduate, the wife of a fallen war hero, and proud mother of a high honors student. Ruth is the only black staff member in the maternity ward of the hospital she works at, but Ruth does not let it affect her. She has convinced herself that race doesn’t matter. “I treat people the way I want to be treated based on their individual merits as human beings, not on their skin tone,” she says.  

White supremacists Turk and Brittany Bauer, however, do not follow any such code. In fact, when the Bauers learn that the nurse assigned to care for their newborn son Davis is black, they demand that Ruth be taken off their service and have no interaction with their son. But when Ruth is the only hospital personnel around as Davis Bauer goes into a cardiac arrest, she is forced to decide between following the orders she received or following her own morals to save the baby’s life. Ruth hesitates but then ultimately decides to perform CPR 

UnfortunatelyDavis could not be revived. The Bauers, needing someone to blame, sue Ruth for the murder of their baby which results in Ruth being charged with felony crimes. Ultimately, this is where the story truly begins.  

I have always felt that Picoult was exceptionally gifted at inhabiting her character’s mindsets and portraying their emotions in ways that many authors cannot compare. Take Turk Bauer as an example. He is a white supremacist. I don’t know about you, but when I see a character that has swastikas tattooed across his body, I do not think I will be able to sympathize with him, let alone relate to him. Picoult’s readers are in for an incredibly uncomfortable and unnerving ride as they see that Turk Bauer is more than a label; he is a husband, he is a father, he is a friend. In many ways, Turk Bauer is just like the rest of us.  

Picoult teaches us that not all monsters have horns or sharp teeth. In fact, most of them blend into our communities, completely unrecognizable. 

While the novel is indisputably long, Picoult’s captivating and suspenseful writing style makes the read incredibly worthwhile. Picoult leads you down a seemingly predictable storyline only to switch up the entire game in the epilogue, leaving her readers in presumable shock with an ending no one could’ve seen coming.