Join us as we start the TWOP Book Club. This week Sophia looks at Small Great Things – Hailed as ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ for the 21st century’, this book certainly had a huge reputation to live up to. Review below.
A thought-provoking and unputdownable novel about race and prejudice that shows Picoult at her very best. – Woman & Home
The narrative rips along at a great pace, she writes dialogue like a pro, and her suspenseful control of the courtroom scenes is masterfully done. – Independent
When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father.
What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.
Ruth has been a nurse for 20 years, helping to deliver babies and care for both the mother and the child after birth. During one of her shifts Ruth is assigned to newborn Davis Bauer and his parents. Early on Ruth becomes acutely aware that the new parents are not happy with her; they watch her every move and present their obvious discomfort at having a black nurse handle their child. During the routine check-up she notices that the baby has a slight heart murmur, but after voicing this to the parents she is met with hostility and an insistent request to speak to Ruth’s manager Marie. Turk Bauer, father of the baby proudly displays his confederate flag tattoo to Marie, who decides to remove Ruth from caring for the baby.
Ruth later returns to find a post-it note on the Bauer’s door advising that no African-American nurses are to handle Davis Bauer. Upset and confused, she confesses to her colleagues that she feels discriminated against and is disappointed at the way Marie dismissed her from the Bauer family.
As events at the hospital become out of control, Ruth is asked to momentarily watch over Davis whilst his new nurse is rushed to care for another patient. During the time she is looking after the baby, it comes to her attention that the baby has stopped breathing. Conflicted between her natural instincts and her strict instructions not to touch the child, Ruth decides that she has to overlook the parents’ demands and tries to resuscitate him. Upon their return to the nursery – where Ruth looks to be just standing over the baby – the other nurses and doctors quickly realise that Davis has gone into cardiac arrest so Ruth begins CPR whilst the rest of the staff fight to save baby Davis. Sadly despite their best efforts, he doesn’t make it. Ruth’s attempts to help the baby are swiftly turned against her and she finds herself facing murder and negligent homicide charges.
Throughout the book we delve in and out of the lives of Ruth, Kennedy and Turk Bauer, learning about their pasts and their thoughts regarding race and prejudice.
Picoult’s style of writing is so natural, and each chapter was beautifully executed; she creates such vivid imagery that I almost feel like I’m watching a film rather than reading a book.
I found it a really thought provoking read; it opened my eyes to a world I’d only ever glanced at from afar. Whilst I believe every human holds certain judgments and opinions of others, I find it hard to understand how people can live their lives so full of hatred and anger because of skin colour.
Naively, I was under the impression that America had moved on and learnt from their years of racial discrimination – however this book proves otherwise. I often found it uncomfortable when Ruth or her sister Adisa spoke so honestly about how different black people’s lives were compared to white people’s. The White Supremacy movement has always disgusted and bewildered me, but I think it’s the fact that the average person carries these prejudices against black people – the police, judges, teachers, even store assistants. It left me feeling very guilty and sad, but also hopeful because now I see that with good education and kindness, it is possible that people can begin to change their views and treatment of others.
Whilst I did enjoy the book and the lessons it taught me, I found that some parts were unnecessarily drawn out whereas other parts felt a bit rushed. The ending in particular felt a bit sudden, especially after such a momentous build up.
Ruth was utterly heroic throughout the whole book, it really touched me to read how well she had succeeded despite how she has been treated because of her race. However I think Kennedy being forced into this uncomfortable realisation and her reaction to Ruth’s discrimination helped her to secure the place of my favourite character. Her sheer determination to help Ruth win her case whilst overcoming and recognising her own racial prejudices is nothing short of admirable. I think we could all learn a thing or two from this character.
“I tell them that there is nothing more selfish than trying to change someone’s mind because they don’t think like you. Just because something is different does not mean it should not be respected.”
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