Wednesdays with Writers: My Reflections on Jodi Picoult’s SMALL GREAT THINGS, Racism in America, Black Female Professionals, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I have a black female physician. I love her. She’s gentle and kind and funny. And has a lovely English accent. Plus, she loves to read. I bumped into her at the local post office one day before Thanksgiving. I had recently completed Jodi Picoult’s most recent novel (her twenty-third), and I wanted to shake her by the shoulders (gently, mind you) and say, “Oh my gosh, have you read this book?” Instead, she told me, “You’re gorgeous in those warm, jewel-toned colors.” I probably blushed, because, let’s face it, bumping into your doctor in public, who has seen what’s under that hospital gown is a little akin to being a grade-school student and seeing your teacher at the grocery store. I mean, teachers eat? Doctors go to the post office? book-image-7a8601b14ac1751df6a60de1548e01094985004f143310f10f132bd1c4f95cb8

Our exchange was brief that day. But it stayed with me. And, ironically, it wasn’t about me and those jewel-toned colors, but our interaction; she might be my doctor, but I consider her a friend, too.

In fact, as a parent–a mother–I often find female professionals for my own two daughters. Once upon a time our speech therapist was female. So is the pediatrician. The doctor who delivered those girls, also female. The dentist, ditto. In fact, my girls seem to think only girls can be pediatricians. A far cry from how I grew up, the erroneous belief that only men could be doctors. Once, when I was about three, my dad asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A nurse,” I responded, “Because girls can’t be doctors.”

And a nurse I became. 

So, too is Jodi Piccoult’s character, Ruth Jefferson. 

Ruth Jefferson is also black. 

She delivers babies. To mothers of all colors. But when she is assigned to care for a new baby and his mother, who are white, the father has a fit. He refuses to allow Ruth Jefferson to be the nurse. A Post-It note to adhered to the chart outside the door to the mother’s room. “No African American staff” it reads. Ruth is the only African American staff person on the mother and baby unit. She feels chastised. She feels her job is being compromised.

There’s more. A lot more. White supremacy. Awful, horrific acts against Jews, blacks, mentally ill, homosexuals, and more. At times, there were some squeamish parts in SMALL GREAT THINGS making me wince.

“Given the current political climate it is quite prescient and worthwhile….This is a writer who understands her characters inside and out.”

-Roxane Gay, The New York Times Book Review

In true Picoult style, she’s takes us into the courtroom and we have a case involving hot-button issues, cutting remarks, smart characters, and a little bit if a twist. Nothing miraculous, nothing too over-the-top, but most definitely something that will get you to stand up a bit straighter, take notice, and make things better. For race. For culture. For yourself.

I found SMALL GREAT THINGS particularly timely and topical given our current social standing, our political climate. Released just on the cusp of one of the most controversial presidential elections in my lifetime, the messages brought forth in Picoult’s book are especially relevant.  860942ef-001e-4451-96cf-d968b4247f8b

As much as I wanted Jodi to join us today in a lively book discussion, she was unable. I hope she is spending time with her family, or maybe working on her next book.

But I did come across some lovely articles she has written in response to SMALL GREAT THINGS, things on her inspirations, motivations and challenges on writing this book (a topic that has intrigued, challenged, and worried her for at least twenty years). I also found a few other articles written by young black men (who might remind you a bit of Ruth Jefferson’s son if you read the book).

I do urge you to pick up SMALL GREAT THINGS. It might have been awhile since you’ve read a Picoult book, but trust me, you’ll want to read this one. Check out this excerpt.

For more information, to connect with Jodi via social media, start (or join) a discussion, or to purchase SMALL GREAT THINGS, check out: 

jodi-headshot-eb9f0ab8b4e8c0124c29507eda50caea77e9fe6d4161c6e28446684fcdb03de5ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-three novels, including Leaving Time, The Storyteller,Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules,Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, andMy Sister’s Keeper. She is also the author, with daughter Samantha van Leer, of two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

image003-3Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 12.13.16. Special thanks to Penguin/Random House for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.]

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