There are two points in life when we are all equal: at the moment of birth and at the moment of death. It is how we live in between that defines us.
The publishers asked us to #ReadWithoutPrejudice, providing neither the author nor title. My first thoughts were that it might be a well-known author writing in a different genre, and we shouldn’t have preconceptions about them or their writing. Yet a few chapters in and the style, and tropes, were obvious and it didn’t take me long for someone to confirm that yes, this is the new Jodi Picoult novel (note, this has now been officially revealed).
I’ve enjoyed some of Jodi’s books in the past, especially Nineteen Minutes which tackles a school shooting, but the fact that I identified the author quite quick, just cements the idea that she can be a bit formulaic. She does tackle tough topics, is easy to read and has a large audience, so a book on racism by her can be no bad thing if it starts a discussion amongst those who might not normally think about it.
The narrative is shared between three characters. Ruth is a labour and delivery nurse (like a midwife) who also happens to be black. Turk is a white supremacist whose wife, Brittany, has just had their first baby. Kennedy is a public defence attorney who lives in the same neighbourhood as Ruth and soon finds herself taking her case.
Because Turk didn’t want Ruth touching his baby. It didn't matter that Ruth was an experienced and compassionate professional, all he saw was her skin colour. When the newborn tragically dies, the parents blame the black nurse, not just for negligence, but for murder. In amongst the heightened emotions, there is also a case of discrimination in the workplace and how the court system deals, or doesn’t deal, with race. There’s some really uncomfortable moments, the worst is knowing that these kind of things are happening out there in our so-called civilised world.
So the request to #ReadWithoutPrejudice was really a hint that the book is about racism, although it also worked to get me to read a book I probably wouldn’t have picked up if I had known the author. I am a little disappointed that this story was not written by someone with first-hand experience of racism, although Jodi does highlight the position of privilege white people are in, that we’re probably all a little bit racist, it’s what we do about it that matters.
Considering recent events, both in America and the UK, I’ve been reading a lot of journalism about racism and some of the longstanding problems which have kept black people down in the US. So there was not much new to me in this novel. What did strike me was that it was stuffed full of so many examples, it felt a bit tick boxy.
OK, white supremacists are probably a hard bunch to get inside their heads and Jodi notes that she spoke to some who had reformed, but a lot just seemed a bit like she’d watched some Louis Theroux documentaries and that season of Nip/Tuck and mixed those elements together. Turk’s ending was quite rushed and the result was it didn’t come across as entirely believable.
I think if you’re a fan of Jodi’s books you’ll definitely enjoy this one, but it wasn’t quite right for me. Sometimes our reading prejudices serve a purpose!
Small Great Things is published by Hodder and will be available in hardback and ebook editions from 11th October 2016. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.
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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.