Small Great Things (Picoult)

Small Great Things 
Jodi Picoult, 2016
Random House
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780345544957



Summary
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient.

The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
 
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime.

Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation.

As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.
 
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 19, 1966
Where—Nesconset (Long Island), New York, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.Ed., Harvard University
Currently—lives in Hanover, New Hampshire


Jodi Lynn Picoult is an American author. She was awarded the New England Bookseller Award for fiction in 2003. Picoult currently has approximately 14 million copies of her books in print worldwide.

Early life and education
Picoult was born and raised in Nesconset on Long Island in New York State; when she was 13, her family moved to New Hampshire. Even as a child, Picoult had a penchant for writing stories: she wrote her first story— "The Lobster Which Misunderstood"—when she was five.

While still in college—she studied writing at Princeton University—Picoult published two short stories in Seventeen magazine. To pay the bills, after graduation she worked at a variety of jobs, including copy writing and editing textbooks; she even taught eighth-grade English and attained a Masters in Education from Harvard University.

In 1989, Picoult married Timothy Warren Van Leer, whom she met in college, and while pregnant with their first child, wrote her first book. Song of the Humpbacked Whale, her literary debut, came out in 1992. Two more children followed, as did a string of bestseller novels. All told, Picoult has more than 20 books to her name.

Writing
At an earlier time in her life, Picoult believed the tranquility of family life in small-town New England offered little fodder for writing; the truly interesting stuff of fiction happened elsewhere. Ironically, it is small-town life that has ended up providing the settings for Picoult's novels. Within the cozy surroundings of family and friends, Picoult weaves complex webs of relationships that strain, even tear apart, under stress. She excels at portraying ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Disoriented by some accident of chance, they stumble, whirl, and attempt to regain a footing in what was once their calm, ordered world.

Nor has Picoult ever shied from tackling difficult, controversial issues: school shooting, domestic violence, sexual abuse, teen suicide, and racism. She approaches painful topics with sympathy—and her characters with respect—while shining a light on individual struggles. Her legions of readers have loved and rewarded her for that compassion—and her novels have been consistent bestsellers.

Personal life
Picoult and her husband Timothy live in Hanover, New Hampshire. They have three children and a handful of pets. (Adapted from a 2003 Barnes and Noble interview and from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/28/2016.)



Book Reviews
Leave it to Jodi Picoult to tackle the explosive subject of race—as she does in Small Great Things—with her signature stroke of compassion. In alternating chapters, Picoult uses those lovely, fluid sentences of hers to limn her characters and bring them to life. She even manages, surprisingly, to give a white supremacist his due.  READ MORE.
Molly Lundquist - LitLovers


A compelling, can’t-put-it-down drama with a trademark [Jodi] Picoult twist.
Good Housekeeping
 

It’s Jodi Picoult, the prime provider of literary soul food. This riveting drama is sure to be supremely satisfying and a bravely thought-provoking tale on the dangers of prejudice.
Redbook
 

Jodi Picoult is never afraid to take on hot topics, and in Small Great Things, she tackles race and discrimination in a way that will grab hold of you and refuse to let you go.... This page-turner is perfect for book clubs.
Popsugar


[I]nspired by a Flint, Mich., event.... The author’s comprehensive research brings veracity to Ruth’s story as a professional black woman trying to fit into white society.... Unfortunately, the author undermines this richly drawn and compelling story with a manipulative final plot twist as well as a Pollyannaish ending.
Publishers Weekly


Picoult delivers what her fans expect with a controversial topic that includes plenty of courtroom drama and a surprise twist. The novel is well researched, although it raises the question: can a person of one race write authentically about being another race? —Amy Stenftenagel, Washington Cty. Lib., Woodbury, MN
Library Journal


[T]he pervasiveness of American racism...is the real story here—and the novel would have been stronger if it had been written from this perspective throughout.... [But] Picoult's conclusion occurs in a separate fairy-tale world where racism suddenly does not exist, resulting in a rather juvenile portrayal of racial politics in America.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Which of the three main characters (Ruth, Turk, or Kennedy) do you most relate to and why? Think about what you have in common with the other two characters as well—how can you relate to them?

2. The title of the book comes from the Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that Ruth’s mother mentions on p. 173: "If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way." What does this quote mean to you? What are some examples of small great things done by the characters in the novel?

3. Discuss Ruth’s relationship with her sister, Adisa. How does the relationship change over the course of the novel?

4. Kennedy seeks out a neighborhood in which she is the only white person to help her gain some perspective. Can you think of an example of a time when something about your identity made you an outsider? How were you affected by that experience?

5. All of the characters change over the course of the novel, but Turk’s transformation is perhaps the most extreme. What do you think contributed to that change?

6. Discuss the theme of parenthood in the novel. What does being a parent mean to Ruth, to Kennedy, and to Turk? What does it mean to you?

7. Why do you think Ruth lies to Kennedy about touching Davis when he first starts seizing? What would you have done in her position?

8. Why do you think Kennedy decides to take Ruth’s case? What makes it so important to her?

9. Discuss the difference between "equity" and "equality" as Kennedy explains it on p. 427. Do you think Ruth gets equity from the trial?

10. Was your perspective on racism or privilege changed by reading this book? Is there anything you now see differently?

11. Did the ending of Small Great Things surprise you? If so, why? Did you envision a different ending?

12. Did the Author’s Note change your reading experience at all?

13. Have you changed anything in your daily life after reading Small Great Things?

14. Whom would you recommend Small Great Things to? Why?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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