Small Great Things

Jodi Picoult is best known for fiction that blends courtroom and human drama surrounding controversial topics. While some of her novels have deviated from that template (The Storyteller, Leaving Time), she returns to it in Small Great Things, which depicts the trial of a nurse accused of the wrongful death of a patient through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ruth Jefferson, the only black labor-and-delivery nurse at a small Connecticut hospital, is stunned when two white supremacists demand that she be kept away from their newborn son. Despite those orders, Ruth becomes deeply involved when the infant goes into cardiac arrest. And when the baby doesn't survive, the grieving parents place blame on her, and press criminal charges. To Ruth, the matter is literally black and white--that is, she's been accused of killing a white baby because she is black--and even as the case attracts the attention of prominent black activists, she's confused by her attorney's insistence on building a defense that addresses race as little as possible.

Small Great Things is narrated in the voices of Ruth, the accused nurse; Turk, the baby's father; and Kennedy, Ruth's (white) public defender. While Turk's presentation of the white supremacist worldview is deeply unsettling, the relationship between Ruth and Kennedy evokes a more complicated discomfort, as it becomes an ongoing dialogue about race, privilege and intention. Small Great Things is in the tradition of Picoult's best topical fiction (My Sister's Keeper; Nineteen Minutes)--engrossing, provocative and timely. It's sure to spur discussions that mirror those taking place between her characters. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

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