Reviewing BooksForAri – Jodi Picoult’s “Small Great Things”

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: A free advanced digital copy of this book was received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was originally hesitant to read this book because, although I love nearly everything Jodi Picoult, I don’t feel like a white woman had any right to discuss a POC topic. On another note, I also didn’t want to read a narrative that neither the author nor I was able to properly engage without disrespecting the voice of another. I am not Black; Jodi Picoult isn’t either. Reading particular narratives of peoples that the author isn’t directly related to or associated with is a dangerous game because you cannot depend on the author to be a reliable source of information. The author more likely than not formulates the character(s) and situation(s) based on stereotypes or information that they’ve heard about but haven’t experienced. As the reader, you find yourself absorbing these fictional characteristics, whether they be racially-motivated or culturally stereotyped, in a way that makes you (perhaps, subconsciously) apply it to reality and real people. Because the relationship between a writer and reader is interdependent, a black narrative orchestrated by a white person has the potential to be a perpetuation of racism and prejudice, and I personally did not want to participate.

What changed my mind? Jodi Picoult has always dealt with challenging topics. I remembered her always having a way of changing the perspective and disrupting my understanding of what is commonly accepted as true. More so, she brings to the forefront society’s widely-accepted truths solely for the purpose of challenging it. I remembered, and thought to myself, this can either be really good or really bad, but why not give it a chance?

“White people don’t mean half the offensive things that come out of their mouths, and so I try not to let myself get rubbed the wrong way.”

As a POC, I usually encourage others to read more POC authors and books with diversity, but I’ve never really given white authors the chance to also be inclusive. I just automatically assume that they’ll do a poor job of representation and fuck it up somehow. But I took a chance… And it’s led me to a 4.5-star review. (WHY DOESN’T GOODREADS LET US GIVE HALF STARS?!)

By exploiting a racially-charged murder trial where race cannot be mentioned in the courtroom, this novel carefully illustrates the nuances of racism in the modern world. In true Jodi Picoult fashion, the storyline is presented from 3 different POVs: the White supremacist accuser, the Black Nurse defendant, and the well-intentioned-but-ignorant White Lawyer. What is shown is that racism does not only exist explicitly. It taints everything from the hospital to the courthouse, from the nursery to the classroom, from the home to the streets. And even though it is present in everyday life, it is not something that’s up for discussion. It’s a reality that is ignored by those who pledge to be ”color-blind” and gets glazed over by people who aren’t affected; however, racism is engrained in the minds of all POC and taught to us from birth. Moreover, being Black is a separate experience – specific and significant – that can only be explained by a voice that society has silenced.

“You don’t go to school with a stain on your shirt, because if you do, people aren’t going to judge you for being sloppy. They’re going to judge you for being Black.”

Small Great Things isn’t just an account of a Black person being racially targeted, it is an exploration of a White person becoming aware of all the different versions of racism. It’s a book that is needed – not for those that are affected by racism but – for those that don’t believe that they’re contributing to it. Jodi Picoult portrays what is means to participate in racism without believing oneself to be a racist and attempts to give voice to what it means to be a bullseye for racism. Emotional and aggressive, Picoult’s words will make any reader think twice about just how progressive one might believe oneself to be and about all those times a blind eye was turned.

Small Great Things is a very good start to highlighting and uprooting the racist foundation of modern society while also providing a bit of hope for a better future. It’s a conversation we cannot be afraid to have. There are voices that should be heard, and some people need to learn to lend their microphones. This book was a valiant – and, in my person opinion, successful – effort in emphasizing racism and all the things that stem from racism that society does not talk about. I do not regret reading this book, and have since, recommended to so many peers to pre-order it. I hope other readers that might also be a bit skeptical give this book a chance, as it has the potential to change the way we view and speak about race.

“…Equality is treating everyone the same. But equity is taking differences into account, so everyone has a chance to succeed…”

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