Small Great Things

A fan of Jodi Picoult who reads her books as soon as they’re available, I had waited a long time to get my hands on this book from the public library.

This latest novel deals with racism in America: Ruth Jefferson is a nurse of African-American descent who is ordered not to touch a newbon whose parents are white supremists. In an emergency, Ruth went against orders, the baby dies and she is charged with murder. Kennedy McQuarie is the white lawyer assigned as Ruth’s defender.

I have great admiration for Picoult: it is evident that before she writes each novel, she does extensive research and interviews so that the situations and characters come across as authentic. And I like that she writes from the points of view of all the main characters. After reading her novels, the reader becomes more aware of the topic dealt with. This book is written from the point of view of Ruth (a Black nurse), Turk (a skinhead father) and a public defender (a well-intentioned white lady who would never consider herself to be a racist).

Most of us think racism is synonymous with the word prejudice, but racism is more than just discrimination based on skin colour; it is also about who has institutional power. Just as racism creates disadvantages for people of colour that make success harder to achieve, it also gives advantages to white people that make success easier to achieve. When it comes to social justice, the role of the white ally is not to be a saviour or a fixer but to find other white people and talk to make them see that many of the benefits they’ve enjoyed in life is the direct results of the fact that someone else did not have the same benefits. White power groups believe in the separation of the races and think they are soldiers in a racial holy war. White supremists dress like ordinary folks; they blend in, which is a whole different kind of terror.

The title, “Small Great Things”, is a reference to a quote often attributed to Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr: If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way. Both Ruth and Kennedy have moments where they do a small thing that has great and lasting repercussions for others. It is through small acts that racism is both perpetuated and partially dismantled. This book inspires the readers to think about ourselves, and make us aware of the distance we have yet to go when it comes to racial awareness. The things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.

The following are some of my favourite lines from the book:

  •  Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.
  •  Every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.
  • People need to put a certain face on for the rest of the world…
  •  In this world, the people with power own other people.
  • The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colours in your mind.
  • Racism isn’t just about hate. We all know biases, even if we didn’t think we do. It’s because racism is also about who has power… and who has access to it.
  • Freedom is the fragile neck, a daffodil, after the longest of winters. At the heart of freedom, hope beats: a pulse of possibility.
  • If people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.
  • There is nothing more selfish than trying to change someone’s mind because they don’t think like you. Just because something is different does not mean it should not be respected.

I know writing is difficult, but I hope the next book from Jodi Picoult will not be too long in coming!


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