Small Great Things (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

“Small Great Things” begins with these words by Benjamin Franklin and sets the central themes for this novel: racism and justice. Author Jodi Picoult weaves a complicated story based on the true life of an African American nurse in Flint, Michigan, whose circumstances parallel Ruth, the main character of the novel.

Picoult’s novel is told from three points of view: Ruth, a successful 20-year veteran labor and delivery nurse; Turk, an outspoken white supremacist skinhead who flaunts a swastika tattoo on his head; and Kennedy, a white woman and a passionate public defender, who believes that, though she will never be rich, she will at least be able to look at herself in the mirror each night.

Turk and his wife have a baby son who was born at Mercy-West Haven Hospital. Ruth, a neonatal nurse, is assigned to care for the newborn baby, Davis, and his mother, Brit. When Ruth arrives to conduct a routine check on Davis and Brit, Turk demands that no African American be allowed to care for his baby or his wife.

Several days later, following the baby’s circumcision — a routine medical procedure — a medical emergency occurs within the hospital, and in the confusion, Ruth is left alone to monitor the newborn. Within minutes the baby goes into cardiac distress, so Ruth tends to him until the medical team arrives. The baby dies.

The parents file criminal murder charges against Ruth. This is where the novel begins, then proceeds through the trial. The story flashes to the past to understand each character’s background.

Much of the story centers on the evolving relationship between Ruth and Kennedy, her defense attorney. Kennedy advises Ruth against bringing up race in a criminal trial, explaining it is one of those unspoken rules of the courtroom. Juries don’t respond well when one uses the “race card.”

I don’t want to spoil the last day of the trial, but I will mention that it effectively ties together the purpose of the story.

“Small Great Things” takes a raw, critical look at racism, specifically, the subtleties that perpetuate, instead of change, a flawed system. Active racism is easy to spot, but passive racism is more difficult to discern.

This novel made me ponder and reconsider how I really think and feel about these issues. In my opinion, this powerful book is written for our times and will generate deep discussions for book clubs.

— From Book review: New novel explores racism, justice

An African American labor and delivery nurse is on trial for the murder of a newborn baby whom she tried to save after white supremacist parents requested she not touch the child. This gripping story is based on the true life of a nurse in Flint, Michigan. This white author presents a story depicting what racism looks like, while trying to tell those of us who are not black, what it feels like.

-Recommended by Virgie

— From December 2016 Staff Picks


#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER - With richly layered characters and a gripping moral dilemma that will lead readers to question everything they know about privilege, power, and race, Small Great Things is the stunning new page-turner from Jodi Picoult.


" Picoult] offers a thought-provoking examination of racism in America today, both overt and subtle. Her many readers will find much to discuss in the pages of this topical, moving book."--Booklist (starred review)

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.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion--and doesn't offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

Praise for Small Great Things

"Small Great Things is the most important novel Jodi Picoult has ever written. . . . It will challenge her readers . . . and] expand our cultural conversation about race and prejudice."--The Washington Post

"A novel that puts its finger on the very pulse of the nation that we live in today . . . a fantastic read from beginning to end, as can always be expected from Picoult, this novel maintains a steady, page-turning pace that makes it hard for readers to put down."--San Francisco Book Review

"A gripping courtroom drama . . . Given the current political climate it is quite prescient and worthwhile. . . . This is a writer who understands her characters inside and out."--Roxane Gay, The New York Times Book Review

"I couldn't put it down. Her best yet "--New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman

"A compelling, can't-put-it-down drama with a trademark Jodi] Picoult twist."--Good Housekeeping

"It's Jodi Picoult, the prime provider of literary soul food. This riveting drama is sure to be supremely satisfying and a bravely thought-provoking tale on the dangers of prejudice."--Redbook

"Jodi Picoult is never afraid to take on hot topics, and in Small Great Things, she tackles race and discrimination in a way that will grab hold of you and refuse to let you go. . . . This page-turner is perfect for book clubs."--Popsugar

About the Author

Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-five novels, including Small Great Things, Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister's Keeper. She is also the author, with daughter Samantha van Leer, of two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

Coverage from NPR

Product Details
ISBN: 9780345544957
ISBN-10: 0345544951
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: October 11th, 2016
Pages: 480
Language: English