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Small Great Things – by Jodi Picoult

In Jodi Picoult’s captivating novel, “Small Great Things,” the lives of three individuals are forever changed when racism intersects with the justice system. Ruth Jefferson, a skilled African American labor and delivery nurse, is charged with a crime after hesitating to save the life of a white supremacist baby. Her defense attorney, Kennedy McQuarrie, struggles with her own biases as she takes on the case. As the trial progresses, their paths intersect in unexpected ways, forcing them to confront their own beliefs about race, privilege, and justice. With thought-provoking themes and richly developed characters, “Small Great Things” challenges readers to examine their own perceptions of the world and their place in it.

Small Great Things - by Jodi Picoult

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“Small Great Things” by Jodi Picoult is a thought-provoking novel that explores the themes of race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion. The story follows Ruth Jefferson, an African American labor and delivery nurse who is reassigned from caring for a newborn due to the parents’ racial preferences. When the baby goes into cardiac distress, Ruth is faced with a decision that will have life-altering consequences. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes on Ruth’s case and the two must navigate their own biases and misconceptions while fighting for justice. With richly layered characters and a gripping moral dilemma, “Small Great Things” challenges readers to question their beliefs and opens up a dialogue about race in America.

About the Author

Jodi Picoult is a bestselling author known for tackling controversial and thought-provoking topics in her novels. She uses her writing as a tool for social commentary, delving into complex themes such as race, prejudice, and justice. Picoult’s ability to create compelling and relatable characters has earned her a dedicated fan base. Her novels spark important conversations and encourage readers to examine their own beliefs and biases. With “Small Great Things,” Picoult continues her tradition of addressing relevant issues and challenging societal norms.

Small Great Things - by Jodi Picoult

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Plot Overview

“Small Great Things” centers around Ruth Jefferson, a skilled African American labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years of experience. During a routine checkup on a newborn, Ruth is abruptly reassigned to another patient when the parents, who are white supremacists, request that she not touch their child. The following day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Faced with a critical decision, Ruth hesitates before performing CPR, which leads to her being charged with a serious crime.

Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes on Ruth’s case and offers unexpected advice – she insists that mentioning race in the courtroom will not be a winning strategy. As the trial gains media attention, both Ruth and Kennedy must confront their own biases and misconceptions. They embark on a journey of mutual understanding and trust, challenging the beliefs they have held their entire lives. With incredible empathy and candor, Jodi Picoult weaves a gripping tale that explores the complexities of race, privilege, and justice.


Ruth Jefferson

Ruth Jefferson is an African American labor and delivery nurse with over twenty years of experience. She faces discrimination when she is reassigned from a newborn due to the racial preferences of the parents. Ruth finds herself at the center of a media sensation when she is charged with a serious crime after a baby goes into cardiac distress while she is alone in the nursery.

Kennedy McQuarrie

Kennedy McQuarrie is a white public defender who takes on Ruth Jefferson’s case. She initially advises Ruth not to mention race in the courtroom, believing it to be an ineffective strategy. As the trial progresses, Kennedy begins to question her own preconceptions about race and evolves in her understanding of privilege and prejudice.

Turk Bauer

Turk Bauer is a white supremacist and the father of the newborn that Ruth Jefferson was reassigned from. He holds deep prejudices and is the catalyst for Ruth’s legal predicament.

Britt Bauer

Britt Bauer is Turk’s wife and the mother of the newborn. She shares her husband’s racist beliefs and is deeply opposed to Ruth being involved in their child’s care.

Adisa Johnson

Adisa Johnson is a fellow nurse and friend of Ruth’s. She supports Ruth throughout her legal battle and provides a friendship that is unwavering in the face of adversity.

Frank Hallowell

Frank Hallowell is the prosecutor in Ruth’s case. He represents the opposing side and is determined to prove Ruth’s guilt.

Small Great Things - by Jodi Picoult

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“Small Great Things” tackles the themes of race head-on and explores the systemic racism that exists in America. The novel delves into the experiences and perspectives of its characters, highlighting the disparities and prejudices faced by people of color in various contexts.


The concept of privilege is a recurring theme in the novel. It explores how privilege can shape individuals’ beliefs, actions, and opportunities. The characters grapple with their own privilege and its implications in their interactions with others.


Prejudice, particularly racial prejudice, is a central theme in “Small Great Things.” The novel examines the harmful consequences of prejudice on both individual and societal levels. It challenges readers to confront and examine their own biases.


Justice is a key theme in the novel, as Ruth Jefferson’s trial becomes a focal point of the story. The novel prompts readers to question the fairness of the justice system and the role that race plays in the pursuit of justice.


Compassion is a recurring theme throughout the novel. It explores the power of empathy, understanding, and kindness in bridging divides and challenging prejudice. The characters learn the importance of compassion in dismantling prejudice and promoting social change.

Writing Style

Jodi Picoult’s writing style is both engaging and thought-provoking. She adeptly explores complex themes while maintaining a page-turning pace. Picoult’s prose is accessible and compelling, allowing readers to quickly become immersed in the story. She skillfully weaves together multiple perspectives, showcasing different viewpoints on race and privilege. With her deft storytelling and strong character development, Picoult creates a narrative that encourages readers to examine their own biases and assumptions.

Critical Reception

The Washington Post

The Washington Post praises “Small Great Things” as Jodi Picoult’s most important novel yet, noting its ability to challenge readers and provoke conversations about race and prejudice. The review commends Picoult for her thought-provoking examination of racism in America, both overt and subtle.

San Francisco Book Review

The San Francisco Book Review lauds “Small Great Things” as a fantastic and gripping read from beginning to end. The review mentions the novel’s page-turning pace, which makes it difficult for readers to put down. It highlights Picoult’s ability to capture the pulse of the nation and commends her for tackling race and discrimination.

The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review, written by Roxane Gay, praises “Small Great Things” as a gripping courtroom drama with timely relevance. The review highlights the prescience of the novel, given the current political climate, and commends Picoult’s understanding and development of her characters.

Film Adaptation

“Small Great Things” is set to be adapted into a major motion picture. The film adaptation will bring the thought-provoking story to the screen, expanding its reach and impact. With its gripping narrative and powerful themes, “Small Great Things” has the potential to resonate with audiences in a visual medium.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Ruth Jefferson’s experience as an African American nurse shed light on racial disparities in healthcare?
  2. Discuss Kennedy McQuarrie’s journey in confronting her own biases and understanding her privilege. How does her perspective evolve throughout the novel?
  3. What role does compassion play in challenging prejudice and fostering understanding? Give examples from the book.
  4. How does “Small Great Things” present a critique of the justice system’s treatment of people of color? What changes, if any, would you propose to address these issues?
  5. Reflect on your own biases and prejudices. How has reading “Small Great Things” impacted your understanding of privilege and race?

Further Reading

To further explore the themes presented in “Small Great Things,” consider the following books:

  • “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
  • “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo
  • “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson

These books provide additional perspectives on race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion, expanding the conversation initiated by “Small Great Things.”