Small Great Things is a necessary read. It is relevant for our time, pushes us as readers to look into different lenses, and maybe even to understand our own lenses better.
Jodie Picoult is my favorite author because she always takes on the difficult topics and forces readers to consider how answers are rarely black and white, and the human experience is a product of our environment.
In Small Great Things, Picoult explores how racism can be intense, and in your face, but also how it is subtle and built into institutions. Picoult's ability to write from a such contrasting perspectives has always amazed me but this book left me in awe. She focuses on two primary narratives: a white supremacist, who is openly prejudice and a black nurse, who has spent her life building a career and a family.
Ruth, the nurse who has established herself in a world that has a largely a white affluent make-up has dealt with institutionalized racism throughout her life. For instance, although she is older and more experienced, someone will assume she is the assistant, or when she was attending Yale she carried a mug with the University's label just to send the message to onlookers that she was part of their world. In these ways Picoult does an incredible job showing how heedless privilege is, how these are experiences white people do not run into on a daily basis, and we mustn't consider small details when interacting with others because our status as a white individual is enough to be respected. As a white reader it consistently pushed me to recognize my privilege. Chapter after chapter I would set my book down and think about what I could do differently, to be a better citizen, and also to help break down my own stereotypes that are a bi-product of the world I have grown up in.
In a much more advertent manner, the white-supremacist, Turk also shows how we all think of racism, as an intense hatred. These chapters left me in chills and absolute disgust sometimes, but also Picoult was able to shape his perspective in a true and honest way. It was very similar to the movie American History X for me, where overarching generalizations and hatred is rooted from single experiences and differences. However, I think it was vital for Picoult to show the many ways race plays into society, both intentionally and in a systematic way that has historical roots. Many of us think we are not racist because we do not act deliberately and therefore our definition of racism becomes people who are outwardly hateful. This was an important aspect to this book because racism also has wide spectrum of intensity: ranging from hate groups to institutionalized racism and daily experiences.
Small Great Things left me thinking and it will stay with me. It made me think about how I perceive society and how I interact with it. It made me think about how I can try to be a better advocate, how I can speak up when I see or hear racial jokes, or inaccuracies.
It is a book that should be read, and read now. In a time where our political landscape is largely based on populist thoughts, on fear of others and focused on differences, it explores the compassion humans have, how people can recreate themselves and how all humans harness the ability to do small actions, greatly, for a better world tomorrow.