Monday, January 2, 2017

Small Great Things

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just picked up this book yesterday (December 23, 2016) from the library, the Large Print edition. (The large print editions are usually available more quickly than the regular print.) My "white ladies book club" asked me to lead the discussion for this book when we meet in January. ("Damned if I do, damned if I don't. So I agreed, dammit.) The story centers around, Ruth Jefferson, a black Labor and Delivery nurse who does her routine checkup of a newborn, whose parents are white supremacists and don't want her to touch their child.

I hope the story doesn't evolve the way many novels by white authors attempting to tell of the black experience often do. Jodi Picoult has many best-selling novels under her belt, so maybe I can trust her "chops."

I have to praise Jodi Picoult for her research. If you read the "Author's Note" at the end of the book, you will see that she does not take the subject of racism lightly. She recognizes her own "white privilege" and has taken great pains to do the research and educate herself about the differences in black culture and everyday life. Picoult reached out to numerous black women to educate herself, and enrolled in a social justice workshop called Undoing Racism, to "peel back the veneer of 'who I thought I was from who I truly am.'"

And then there is the whole Neo-Nazi culture. She did her research there too on the white power groups who believe in the separation of the races.

Jodi Picoult is not Kathryn Stockett, the author of "The Help," whose simplistic view of racism offended a lot of black people.

Now for the story, without giving away too much. Ruth Jefferson is a black Labor and Delivery nurse, who is told by her supervisor that the white supremacist parents of the newborn she is checking, don't want her to touch the baby. When the baby subsequently dies, the parents accuse Ruth of murder.

Ruth, who has worked over 20 years in Labor and Delivery at that hospital, is fired from the job, and is arrested in the middle of the night at her home where she lives with her A-student son, Edison, only child of Ruth's late husband who lost his life while deployed in Afghanistan.

Ruth has no resources to hire an attorney, but requests the services of a public defender, Ms. Kennedy McQuarrie, who takes her case. Kennedy lives the life of "white privilege" with little understanding of what "people of color" experience on a daily basis. Ruth and Kennedy have to gain each other's trust, and come to understand what their lives mean to each other.

The scenes of Ruth in jail, then released to find work at McDonald's were heart-breaking. Her son starts to act out, while he tries to make sense of his life, and his future with his mother's life in jeopardy.

Picoult tells the story with back and forth chapters of Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk, the white supremacist. It was difficult to see Ruth in a state of depression. Kennedy stayed on the case and tried to come to an understanding of the daily life of African Americans. The Neo-Nazi chapters were very disturbing.

When we come to the trial, the action is a page-turner. No spoilers here. As I often say, "you have to read it for yourself."

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