Small Great Things, comes from a quote that is attributed to Martin Luther King. Given the current tenor of intolerance in our country, Jodi Picoult's story of an African American nurse who is accused of murdering a white supremacist couple's infant, struck a definite cord with me. The story is told from three viewpoints, the nurse, the defense attorney and the father of the deceased baby.
Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years, is at the top of her game. She loves her job and feels her co-workers respect and like her. During a routine check up of newly delivered baby, Ruth is confronted by the baby's father and told not to touch his wife or baby again. He asks for Ruth's supervisor and Ruth very quickly learns that she is prohibited from caring for the baby in any way. A note is put in the file that no African American staff is allowed to come in contact with this family-Ruth is the only black nurse in the department.
Of course an emergency with the baby comes up and Ruth is the only one around for several minutes. The baby ultimately dies and Ruth's life is turned upside down when she is blamed by the parents and the hospital administration and placed under arrest.
It is at this point in the novel that I could feel myself starting to get uncomfortable. At first I was outraged at how Ruth and her teenage son are treated so unfairly. Much of the racism is overt and disturbing. But as the book progresses its the subtle forms of racism that really started to bother me. I could identify with Ruth's defense attorney who did not see herself as racist in any way. Kennedy considers herself "color blind" but discovers some hard truths about herself and the legal system as the case progresses and she gets to know Ruth more intimately.
This book pushed me to reflect more deeply about my own prejudices and how even when you have the best intentions you may have a bias that you aren't fully aware of. That feeling of discomfort that crept in as I was reading stuck with me for days after I finished the book.
Personally I really appreciate a book that makes me revisit how I view the world and my own values. We are never too old, or hopefully too jaded, to take stock of the human condition and look for ways to be a better person.