Small Great Things

Small Great ThingsSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is this really a 5 star book? It had some flaws, and the ending was really not up to Picoult’s usual twist. Everything was tied up a little too neatly. BUT. Reading this while the events at Charlottesville unfolded (white supremacists came looking for trouble at the taking down of a Confederate statue, and one of them ran down the non-violent counter-protestors with his car) proved to be eerily timely. We read this for book club and every single person remarked that it really opened their eyes to the fact of white privilege and made them think and they felt their perspective had changed significantly because of this book. For that reason alone, I’ll give this 5 stars, or 6 or 7…. I had difficulty listening to this book at first. The parts narrated by Turk, the white supremacist father, made me physically ill. But please do persevere! As Ruth and Kennedy wrestle with the issues of race and racial equity, so will you.

Book description: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

Audiobook read by Audra McDonald with Cassandra Campbell and Ari Fliakos.

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The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to admit I was underwhelmed by this book after all the hoopla and press and a Pulitzer Prize. It’s not exactly fantasy, and it’s not exactly magical realism. So I’ve settled on alternate history. The Underground Railroad is imagined as an actual underground railroad, built in some mysterious past by unknown builders but in a time period before the railroad even existed in the United States. Likewise other events, like the section set in South Carolina with white doctors encouraging black women to have tubal ligations long before such a thing was historically available. So the “railroad” is something of a time machine as well. Those things didn’t bother me. I give it 4 stars because this movement through time and space made the plot feel disjointed at times. Or it has no plot in the traditional sense. There was also no character development. What makes this a compelling book, though, is the way it removes the “black experience” from time and place, making the reader a vicarious traveler on this same journey regardless of race. In that sense, perhaps the reader is actually the main character – hopefully a character that has learned something and gained in understanding of that experience.

Book description: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.