You know how Picoult works, right? She takes something out of the headlines or out of the social conversation and breaks it apart. The result is that the reader questions something in themselves based on the different characters and events in the books. In this book, the subject is racism.
Ruth Jefferson is an accomplished labor and delivery nurse in a small Connecticut hospital with over 20 years experience. She is African American. Turk and Brit are brand new parents, having just delivered their first child, a son they named Davis. They are White Supremacists. Turk has had Ruth removed from caring for their son, however in a catastrophic turn of events, Davis goes into respiratory arrest and dies when Ruth is the only one in the room. Kennedy is the white public defender who takes Ruth's case when the State charges her with murder.
I believe that I am this book's target audience. I am middle aged, white and female. In the past few years, I have become aware and more sensitive to the privilege I have been granted just on the basis of my skin color. The way this story is presented puts a lot of that white privilege on display, while also showing that the opportunities afforded to me are opportunities taken away from a person of color. I believe that this message will reach people in the target audience, especially given how popular this author is with that audience, and I hope that it takes spreads.
The chapters in Turk's voice were especially difficult for me to read. I had such an emotional response, I felt such hatred for this character, that I could not put the book down after his section - I had to keep reading to end on a different voice. I refuse to feel pity for this man and the hatred he represents. I just can't with him, no matter how human or flawed he is written... he almost made me stop reading but I didn't want to let him win.
I liked Ruth, but hated that she was so complacent (even though she was taught that was the only way for her to get ahead). She didn't speak up against even small racist actions, not like her sister would, and she bottled up her anger. And I can't really be mad at her for it, but be angry at the institutional racism that has created this as some sort of "normal". It isn't right.
In the end, I'm still not sure how I feel about the conclusion. The end scene, six years later, doesn't sit quite right for me. <<Spoilers follow>> I didn't like that Turk was the only voice we hear. We can see Ruth at this new point in time, but I didn't think it was fair not to hear from her too. And while Turk was starting to question his philosophy during the trial, his complete transformation and happy life now seems too easy. We are to infer happy endings for all, but I don't feel like that is really it. I think Ruth would have just as complicated an after-story, but we aren't given the opportunity to hear it. How do you end a book about racism by only giving the white guy the microphone? <<End Spoilers>>
It isn't perfect, but it is a good book that will get you thinking and rethinking.
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult