Why We Need To Talk about ‘Small Great Things’


I was 13 years old when I first discovered my favourite author, Jodi Picoult. I was in my school library looking for something new to read and I came across Change of Heart, a story of a man on death row wanting to donate his heart to a young girl desperately in need of it. The twist? He had murdered the girl's father and elder sister 11 years previously.

Maybe it was a topic too much for a 13 year old but I had always relished books that were meant for an older age group than mine,  and I had always enjoyed topics that were hard to consume. That might explain why I devoured Change of Heart.

From then on-wards I started scouring car book sales to get my hand on more books written by Picoult. I can go on and on about how much I adore the thought-provoking topics that burst out of Picoult's stories and how her characters stay with you forever, but I might never stop!

There have been times when I found myself putting down one of Picoult's books after only reading a few chapters. Such as when I was 15 and I started reading Nineteen Minutes, only to find that I wasn't ready for the topic. Something told me that I would go back to it later… Sure enough, I picked it up again around the age of 19 after I had just watched One Tree Hill's episode of the school shooting. I was suddenly ready to face that topic, just as I am ready now for Small Great Things.

Picoult's latest masterpiece explores the topics of race, prejudice and the struggles that people of colour experience daily. Her main character, Ruth, is a midwife who was instructed not to take care of a newborn baby and was reassigned on her shift. The parents, White Superimacists, had asked for Ruth to not have any contact with their child. Why? Because Ruth is an African American. When Ruth is unexpectedly left alone with the baby and he stops breathing, is Ruth supposed to follow orders and not touch him? Or should she risk herself getting into serious trouble but save the baby's life?

Throughout the novel Picoult and her characters point out how incredibly thoughtless white people can be without realising and even with the best of intentions. Something that I have come to realise when reading this story is this: I am a racist. And I say this as a statement which needs to be changed.

Like Ruth's white lawyer, Kennedy, I never saw different races. Or rather I tried my hardest not to see them, in my best intentions to treat everyone as equals regardless of race, gender, disability etc. But, as Kennedy also eventually realises, you shouldn't aim to treat people equally. You should treat them EQUITABLY. An extract from Small Great Things explains this better than I can:

"You're right." I nod. "You need equity."
Ruth stops walking, still facing away from me. "You mean equality," she corrects.
"No, I mean equity. Equality is treating everyone the same. But equity is taking differences in account, so everyone has the chance to succeed." I look at her. "The first one sounds fair. The second one is fair. Its equal to give a printed test to two kids. But if one's blind and one's sighted, that's not fair. You ought to give one a Braille test and one a printed test, which both cover the same material…"

Picoult's message shouts loud and clear: we all need to start recognising how privileged we are as white people and how we are going to change that attitude. We all need to realise that the world has come so far but still has a long way to go, and we need to be the first to help it along. Especially in this uncertain world with people like Trump and his supporters.

This topic could bring up all different sides of the argument and debates, and that's fine. That's good! The more we talk, the easier it gets. But please read Small Great Things, please see why I'm making such a big fuss over this.

A big thank you to Jodi Picoult for continuing to open my eyes and mind to situations I never even dreamed of. I'll always be a fan!

(Oh, and my favourite book? Sing You Home and Handle With Care. Of course, I can't just pick one!)

 

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