Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
[Image courtesy of Goodreads]
My first Jodi Picoult was Nineteen Minutes. I was hooked from the first couple of chapters and went into “devour mode” whenever I came across her books, before I decided that I had to stop before I went into depression. The irony was that she writes well, so much so that her vivid descriptions of what can go wrong in one’s health scared me, and her explanation of the legal system (and its failings) saddened me. Of course, there are often bright sides and valuable life lessons in her stories, but for me, her books have to be read with long intervals in between if I don’t want to be sucked dry emotionally.
And so, it’s been a long while since my last Picoult book, and this has to be one of my favorites.
In Small Great Things, Picoult had used her signature style of writing from the perspectives of each of her key characters, and that really helps one to understand and look at the issues from different (often opposite and diverse) angles. I’m not sure if her depiction of the black-white situation reads true, but it has opened my eyes to issues beyond racial discrimination, such as how the world has traditionally been designed in a way that is biased against left-handed people, physically challenged folks, and maybe even the elderly. Picoult has also, through her narration of Kennedy’s emotional and mental growth, highlighted the need for racial equity, as opposed to racial equality. This is a new concept to me.
I think Picoult’s strengths lie in her ability to induce in readers strong feelings of empathy for her characters. Interestingly, I recently picked up a new book by Paul Bloom – Against Empathy – which argues against the merits of trying to feel what another person is feeling. I’m now keen to find out whether, according to Bloom’s theory, her kind of writing is actually good or bad for this world.
VERDICT: If you’re not yet a Jodi Picoult fan, this might make you one. If you are already one, what are you waiting for?
And here’s an overview of the storyline from Goodreads:
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 but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.