It’s been a long time since I read a book that impacted me as much as Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I highly recommend this book to EVERYONE 14 years old +. I teared up while reading every single chapter. I had two good cries in the tub after a few chapters. This story will affect you no matter what age or what race you are.
In case you’ve never heard of Jodi Picoult before, she is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail bestselling author of twenty-five novels.
Here is a little bit of the book blurb on cover: “Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case…”
The story is separated into five parts:
1. Stage One, Early Labor: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Benjamin Franklin
2. Stage One, Active Labor: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” James Baldwin
3. Stage One, Transition: “The piano keys are black and white but they sound like a million colors in your mind.” Maria Cristina Mena
4. Stage Two, Pushing: “She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then part of the wall, and, once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with.” Ray Bradbury
5. Stage Three, Afterbirth (six years later): “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” Nelson Mandela
The story begins from Ruth’s perspective as a child, spending a snow day with her mom at her job as a cleaning lady for a rich white family, the Hallowells. Ruth witnesses her mother helping Ms. Mina give birth to her baby early, at home, and Ruth grows up to become a labor and delivery nurse.
“On the day before classes were supposed to start, Mama took me out to dinner. “You’re destined to do small great things,” she told me. “Just like Dr. King said.” She was referring to one of her favorite quotes: If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”
We also get to hear the story from Turk’s perspective, the white supremacist father of baby Davis who dies. I have to admit, I hated Turk from the get-go, but as the story went on, I got to learn more about his past, his mindset, his motivations, and wondered…if he could learn to hate, could he learn to love?
The public defender assigned to Ruth’s case, Kennedy McQuarrie was the perspective of the white person who thinks they aren’t racist, but find out the small things they do and say are actually racist. She may not be a jerk like Turk (I found it funny that his name rhymed with jerk), but she, like myself and many other white people, tend to ignore instances where an African American is treated unfairly. If we do not stand up, if we are not outraged, we are making it more acceptable and we are part of the problem.
One of my favorite quotes in Small Great Things is, “Pride is an evil dragon; it sleeps underneath your heart and then roars when you need silence.”
This story helped me let go of my pride so that I could better understand my own ignorance. It has opened my eyes to realize I must do a better job standing up for everyone’s rights, no matter what color we are.
READ THIS BOOK. Absolutely a 5 star read for me. I feel like this book belongs in every high school library, and part of the curriculum. SUCH an important read – make time for this one!