SYNOPSIS: 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.
GENRE: Fiction, Contemporary
RATING: ★★☆☆☆ / 2 dissapointing stars.
REVIEW: I finished this book over a week ago and have been trying to sum-up my thoughts since then. I didn't quite know how I wanted to start this review but I did know where I would probably end. My problem is that I don't want to just come in with both fists swinging, because my initial impulse is to just start listing my grievances, but there are definitely points to be commended in this novel as well. So bear with me, because I'm not quite sure how this is all going to play out.
I didn't like the book. I didn't enjoy it at all. Now this is where someone will point out that it's not exactly the type of book that you're supposed to enjoy, but one that is supposed to make you think and feel. A good book that makes me think, reevaluate, or pushes me into a new direction is it's own kind of enjoyment though, BUT this book didn't make me think or feel either. Small Great Things didn't bring me anything new. It was so FULL of cliched characters across all races and occupations that I was actually a little baffled through the first third of the book, wondering if this could possibly be a serious work of fiction.
The novel is told from three perspectives; Ruth, Turk, and Kennedy. The only voice that felt entirely genuine and saved the book in any way was Kennedy's, the lawyer. I'm not sure that Turk's perspective was necessary. The only reason that the extreme white supremacist's viewpoint made any sense or impact was for the twist ending, which I felt was unnecessary (something that I will get to in a minute) and therefore I don't feel that it added to the novel at all. Additionally I felt that Ruth's viewpoint actually detracted from the points that I believe the author was trying to make, despite the fact that this was Ruth's story. Let me see if I can explain that any better...
The book is touted as being thought-provoking and challenging readers to confront their own biases, etc. The problem with this is that we are led through this book by the hand with practically every bit of information spoon fed to us. In this way, how can we form our own thoughts or begin to judge our own unfounded biases? Instead of being an entirely linear story from multiple points of view, if Picoult had instead told the story from Kennedy's view point from the beginning, with her discovering and taking on Ruth's case, and then telling the story in the courtroom, it would have been more effective. If we the reader were treated like another member of the jury, being presented with the case, forming opinions both in and out of the book, and then at the end of the trial flashing back to the undiluted truth through Ruth's POV, then perhaps that would force the reader to confront the biases they didn't even know they held. That would be thought-provoking.
By far the most interesting parts of this novel were the in and outs of the courtroom. The story flowed better in these sections and it felt like the author had a firmer and more comfortable grasp in these moments. The jury selection and plan of attack for the trial was more eye-opening than the rest of the novel combined. This is where the book shined.
Okay, on to the ending. There's a twist, because...I don't even know why. The twist actually got the strongest reaction out of me from the entirety of the book. I hated it. I won't spoil anything but it felt absolutely pointless, like having a twist at the end just for twist's sake. My problem is that it takes away from everything that the book was trying to do and be. The strong messages that have been talked over and throughout the entire book are completely undermined by the ending. Because after all that, the twist is what you're left thinking about and it was unnecessary.
There is a great story at the heart of the novel, there really is. The situation and moral dilemmas are perfectly apropos, but the details and choices that the author made were disappointing. In the end I didn't gain anything from this book, but perhaps that's my own failing and other readers will find a stronger message amidst the pages. I hope that Small Great Things will give bigger and better things to others, because it just didn't do it for me.