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racism

Mar 10 2017

Small Great Things

by Camille B

Small Great Things(No Spoilers)

I have never been a member of a Book Club, but after reading this book I honestly wished that I was. Small Great Things left me so charged up- in a good way- that I wanted to sit down with others who had read it to hear what they had to say about it. Did the emotions they experienced mirror mine? Or were they totally opposite?

There is probably no author worth his salt, who has ever written a book that was totally loved the world over, no matter the effort, research, humility and best intentions he’d put into capturing a particular truth. There would always be the few who felt that the facts weren’t accurate, or if they were, they weren’t presented the right way. Or maybe they simply felt that the author was presumptuous to speak on the topic at all. To these folk I say, get it right when you write your book.

The blurb of Small Great Things actually sells itself, and I found myself being quickly reeled in as I read it: a black labor and delivery nurse, white supremacist parents; the black nurse is told not to touch their baby because of the color of her skin, she ends up doing so anyway in a moment of crisis, the baby dies and the story takes off! I placed a hold on the book immediately. Who was going to pay for this…crime? How? And most importantly…why?

Jodi Picoult uses the lives of her three main characters:  Ruth, a nurse; Turk, a white supremacist father; and Kennedy, a white public defender, each with different lives, cultures and backgrounds, to explore a topic that so many tiptoe around or find difficult to speak about. “Racism is hard to discuss,” says Picoult in the author’s note. “And as a result we often don’t.”  So she puts out the three pairs of shoes for us to walk in, and as we do we see firsthand the many cracks and crevices where racism can lie, sometimes hidden in plain sight. 

Parts of the book will make you squirm, and you may be tempted to skip over a few pages or even chapters. Some of the deeds done would seem atrocious and cause your blood to boil. There are words that may make you cringe, because you can’t imagine ever saying them yourself, but they’re necessary and the book won’t be complete without them.

And Picoult stays true to her characters and their voices throughout her book. I remember commenting to a friend while reading it that, had I written the book myself, I would have been drenched in sweat by the end of the final chapter from the sheer effort of having to keep those three voices as clear and distinct in the reader’s mind as they were throughout the entire novel- a black nurse, a white lawyer and a white supremacist.

The wealth of research that went into breathing life into Ruth Jefferson, Kennedy McQuarrie and Turk Bauer, and causing them to come alive for us on the pages included Jodi sitting down to speak with women of color- many of them mothers- who were willing to share with her openly what it really feels like to be black. She interviewed former skinheads who gave her an inside look of how white supremacists think and what they actually believe. She spoke with white mothers as well, many of whom admitted that they never discussed racism with their children. She spent hours poring over books on the topic and even enrolled in a social justice workshop called Undoing Racism.

I was learning about myself,” Picoult says in her author’s note. “I was exploring my past, my upbringing, my biases, and I was discovering that I was not as blameless and progressive as I had imagined.” Mrs. Picoult is white, I am black, but her words ring true for me as well, as I’m sure they will for you, whether you’re black, white, blue or purple.

For some, this might be a difficult book to read, but what growth is there if we only read the books that we’re comfortable with? The ones with easy answers and a happy ending? I think that it’s imperative that we also  read the ones that stretch us; the ones that make us look at life in another way, whether we agree with that way ourselves or not. And this is what Small Great Things does– it causes you to walk in the other person’s shoes, see through the other person’s eyes, even though doing so might be uncomfortable.

So if you’re looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. Easy it’s not and change you it will, because there’s no way you can remain indifferent to the racism we see in our world everyday after the myriad of emotions you’re bound to experience as you go through the pages of this book.  There is no way you can continue to hide beneath a cloak of ignorance.

It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year, with a surprising twist that will knock your socks off. I urge you to get it, read it and pass it on to your friends, share it with your husband, wife and coworkers.  I guarantee you that unless your heart is made of stone, there is no way you can read it and not come away with a different imprint upon your  soul that wasn’t there before.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” 

                                                                   – Martin Luther King Jr.

Small Great Things– Jodi Picoult

 

 

 

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