“It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”
That is what poisons so many of us, the rotten untrue things projected unto us by even those who love us. An experienced, veteran labor and delivery nurse Ruth Jefferson’s life is going to be ripped from her when she tries to save a baby she was told not to touch, because of her skin color. When a white supremacist couple deliver a baby that has complications, her mistake to go with instinct and try to give the baby CPR only to have the child die will be the catalyst for losing her job as the hospital doesn’t side with her. But the story is about race, and how both black and white people don’t trust each other. We see extremes on both sides, but not randomly. Each has a reason for their narrow minded beliefs. Without race, it’s easy to see as well that someone had to take the blame for the fate of the baby. What else can we do with terrible loss, tragedy than to find someone else to take the fall? With the racist beliefs Turk and Brittany Bauer have ingrained, could there have been any other outcome than to focus all their rage on Ruth?
The twist, well well well…. a beautiful one. This story can open a lot of discussion about race, which is just as vital today as it was decades ago. I think about the world, I don’t care what continent you are on, what color you are- racism exists everywhere and isn’t just a black and white topic. Take any country and you will find racism, reduce it to any room and you will find people creating an us vs them. What is it about the human race that finds it so necessary to turn against each other? It isn’t all doom and gloom, as much as we turn away we can come together too and chose not to embrace the things we’re told are true. Everyone in this story has their reasoning for their beliefs, some grow and become better. Some of it is predictable, but what Small Great Things does is start conversations for everyone.
Ruth, strong career woman, single black mother quickly sees her life, the one built on hard-work fall apart, and when her son Edison (a college bound honor student) is pulled into it by a stupid act, trying to expose Turk for who he really is, we can’t help but feel his pain. With the decision Kennedy (Ruth’s lawyer) makes about race during the trial, it’s interesting how the very thing Kennedy wants to avoid bringing up in Ruth’s case is the very thing that could nail Edison! Picoult doesn’t point fingers herself here. She exposes each side for feeling the way they do. Hate doesn’t happen in a bubble, not for any of us. Kennedy is an interesting character, one many are familiar with, people of privileged backgrounds that live removed from what the rest of us ‘common folk’ deal with on a daily basis. She may work to help the unfortunates, but she isn’t really submerged in their realities. Ruth changes that for her. I will say as well that the views Turk has, you have to wonder how and why it happens. People are not born with these thoughts and feelings, for all the angry, spitting racists of any color you have to wonder how did they arrive at that place. Is it being spoon fed, or having encountered some terrible situation that tells them ‘see, it’s true, this one thing happened so everyone of this color or ethnic background IS bad’ ? Is it taught, again take any place in the world and watch how one group is maligned and children learn from their parent’s example.
The case itself, even without race as an open wound, would be a nightmare for anyone. Being accused of something horrible- how to defend yourself when the very people who should be standing up for you make you take the fall. This isn’t fiction for some, it does happen.
This is quite the novel, and open for a lot of discussion. We think we are forward thinking, but hop online, turn on the news, the world is hot right now with people wanting to expose the quiet discrimination they face just as much as the loud. Are we listening?
Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine
Public release date: October 11, 2016