Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
I’ve been hearing such great things about this book for months, and I was excited to have the chance to read it. I don’t always read Jodi Picoult’s books, but when I do, I generally enjoy them. Today, I realized I only had two days left to read this book (before having to find it elsewhere, anyway), so I buckled down, lit a cozy fall fire, and set about reading it.
Going into this, I had no idea at all what it was about. I trusted that it would be interesting and dove in without even reading the synopsis. Basically, it’s about a black labor and delivery nurse, Ruth, who is being blamed for the death of a white supremacist couple’s (Turk and Brit) newborn. It’s about a tragedy, a trial, and racism, both passive and active. It’s about the ways that black people are treated differently by their friends, coworkers, law enforcement, and strangers. On these issues, I really felt that Picoult tried to add to the conversation happening today about race, and in some ways, she succeeded. There’s no way this book could have highlighted every issue facing blacks in America, but the snapshots here certainly help get the conversation started.
Ruth and her family were interesting to learn more about, especially the differences between Ruth and her sister Adisa and the struggles Edison faced with his friends, classmates, and teachers. I’ve never considered how a criminal accusation against a parent might impact a teenager’s friendships or relationships with teachers, or how even gestures of kindness might sting. It was a unique perspective that I really appreciated.
I enjoyed reading about the trial and trial prep, too, and it was suspenseful and relatively realistic (through most of it, anyway), which kept me turning the pages. I do, however, have a quibble with the process of jury selection. The book takes place in Connecticut (where I live) and more specifically, in the New Haven County Superior Court (where I literally worked as a trial clerk pretty recently). The way jury selection was described in this book is not accurate for Connecticut, and it drove me crazy. The process she describes is a little off (if you’re interested in a more detailed explanation, I can certainly bore you with one — sitting in on jury selection was literally the majority of my job). For most people, this is so trivial and doesn’t matter at all, but to me, it points out a lack of research into how the system here really works. Plus, if you’re going to set your book in a place where I’ve actually worked, I’m not going to let details slide.
The other part of the book I didn’t love was the ending. It felt contrived and unbelievable, and I would have been much happier if most of it hadn’t happened. Really, everything from the closing arguments on was just super cheesy and unrealistic.
Overall, I really did like this book. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed the majority of it. If it hadn’t been for the silly technical inaccuracy with jury selection, I would probably have given it four stars, but I just can’t get past the weird lack of attention to detail, so I gave it three stars.
*ARC from Penguin First to Read