It’s been years since Martin Luther made his beautiful and iconic I have a dream speech and for a while it felt as if America was on its way to something incredible; equality in our lifetime.
At least that’s how it felt from afar but under the surface something far more dangerous was bubbling. Surrounded by broken capitalism, societal inequalities, and globalisation, a deep rooted anger had started to grow, it’s roots sinking deep into society. Once boiled this anger is all too often pointed in the wrong direction and it is in these times that we see the worst of human nature.
The recent elections both in the Unites States and the U.K have shone the spotlight on this often overlooked situation. It’s unsettling to admit that progress hasn’t gone quite as far as we might have liked and it’s uncomfortable to admit that we are nowhere near equality yet.
Recent events have lifted the lid on these issues, illuminating the divisions that are set deep into the canvasses of our nations.
It seems incredibly appropriate that Jodi Picoult’s latest novel surrounds the subject of racism and hit the shelves in November, days after the traumatic election. Considering everything that we now know about America, Small Great Things, seems oddly prophetic and was released at exactly the right moment.
Written around the subject of race – something Picoult admits she’d found hard to write about previously – the novel seeks to discuss issues that have once again raised their ugly head.
The novel itself is inspired by a true story and revolves around a nurse who is banned from caring for a baby purely because of the colour of her skin. The baby’s parents are active white supremacists and don’t believe that their child should be cared for by Ruth – a black, extremely experienced nurse. It’s made extremely clear that she is not to care for, nor touch that baby.
The baby later has medical difficulties and Ruth – being the only nurse there at the time -is caught between a rock and a hard place, dithering over how she should behave. Sadly, the baby passes away and out for revenge, the parents seek a prosecution.
I’m a huge fan of Jodi Picoult’s novels at the best of times but I’ve never read one that felt so incredibly relevant, forcing you to acknowledge issues that you probably never have before. As with most of her novels Small Great Things is incredibly gripping, beautifully done and hard to put down for even a moment.
While the overall story is one of racism, it’s the subtle kind of racism that Picoult does best, slipping in anecdotal stories that portray the everyday kind of racism that is all too often overlooked.
Yet while overall the novel is done extremely well, there is one accept upon which Picoult slipped up and that is in the characterisation of the main characters. Ruth is written perfectly, relatable and easy to like, something that most of us look for in a lead character.
Yet the other characters are not so well developed and at times the characters slip into stereotype, the kind that makes you cringe a little bit inside. The kind that makes the characters feel too one-dimensional. Take the white supremacist father, for example, his circumstances are all too familiar and the character feels a little bit contrived.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the novels ending either. I won’t give too much away because I want to avoid spoilers but the twist at the end felt incredibly inauthentic and history was swept away too easily.
Overall this is an incredibly moving and powerful novel and as is the standard for Picoult, it’s one that leaves you feeling uncomfortable and moved enough to make you change how you look at the world.
If you read one book before the end of 2016, make sure that it’s this one.