“Who’s your favorite author”? I’d say this is my number-one question that I am asked when people find out how much and how often I read. It’s always a pretty impossible question for me to answer, but I seem to come back to Jodi Picoult every single time. I picked up her first book Songs of the Humpback Whale at the Goodwill years ago for $1.99. I remember it distinctly, because I went on a quest to find the rest of the books immediately. One by one, they’ve always held my interest and made me think. I counted down the days till Small Great Things came out, and I pre-ordered it on Amazon before the release. Jodi always seems to tackle timely societal issues as they happen, and so this book centers on the delicate topic of racism. It’s about an African-American nurse named Ruth, who is a medical professional with many years of experience in labor and delivery. She is assigned to a family who refuses her as their nurse due to them being white supremacists, and she isn’t allowed to touch their baby. When their child goes into cardiac arrest, Ruth has to make an instant decision about whether to save a life. It lays way to what Picoult does best: set a story where there is no right decision, and no simple answer. I completed five years of nursing school, and my instinct says of course you’d never go against a patient’s desire or break a hospital ruling, but I know I’d be tugged to save any child in cardiac arrest. And saving a life seems like the obvious choice, but there are hefty consequences to pay for both Ruth and her own family.
As always, Picoult uses multiple points of view in the very best way, moving between Ruth, her lawyer Kennedy, and even the child’s parents (the supremacist family). I know several people who have read books by this author and cannot stand the multiple points of view, but I love it. For me, I find the story moves more easily and rapidly through the plot with several viewpoints. This particular book is unexpectedly touching, and moves between layers that seem cut-and-dry. She manages to earn sympathy and more importantly, empathy, for even the most unlikely characters. All the while acknowledging the pain and reality of racial tension in America today, tension that most would claim doesn’t exist. I admit, reading a book on racism by a famed, white author, seemed a little ridiculous…what could she know about predjudice? How would she capture how a person of color would truly feel? Is this a story that really could happen today? I think these were answered within a story that was beautifully done.