Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
General Fiction > Women’s Fiction
This novel is gripping. The story is told from three points of view: Ruth, a black nurse who has worked in labor and delivery for twenty years; Turk, a white supremacist whose wife just had a baby; and Kennedy, a white public defender who defends Ruth.
Turk and his wife are mortified when Ruth takes over for another nurse. Turk goes to her manager and requests that no African Americans touch their son, Davis. She’s not thrilled when she hears this—Ruth is the only black nurse who works in labor and delivery—but she complies, until the two white nurses are called into an emergency and leave Ruth alone to watch the baby, who has just had a circumcision. Something goes wrong, and criminal charges are brought against her, and her license is suspended. I was actually more infuriated at the cops and hospital staff than I was with Turk. I guess because I don’t expect a white supremacist to act fairly, but I’d hope that cops and people Ruth had worked alongside would.
I teared up several times reading this harrowing narrative. Some of the things I already knew—like the proliferation of using the web to promote fake news and bigotry “Old skinheads don’t die. They used to join the KKK, now they join the Tea Party. Don’t believe me? Go listen to an old Klan speaker and compare it to a speech by a Tea Party Patriot.” Other stuff was news to me, such as the differences between being a Skinhead or White Supremacist or Aryan Nations or Neo-Nazi. Actually, I’m still not one hundred percent clear on the differences, but I think it’s timely to considering what’s happening nationally with fake news and real politics.
This is a beautifully written, absorbing story.
The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang
Charles Wong came from China to America and grew a fortune in the make-up business. Unfortunately, he makes a few stumbles with his business in 2008 when the economy built on false mortgages comes crashing down, and he loses everything—his house, the cars, all his factories.
He has three children from his first wife, who died eight weeks after the birth of their last child. The kids have never known deprivation, which is perhaps why all of them feel free to pursue the arts—and use their money to do so. Saina is an artist whose fourth show not just bombed but had people protesting in the streets. At the same time her career is in shambles, her fiancé leaves her for his pregnant girlfriend, the daughter of a wealthy mattress magnet. Saina sells her Manhattan loft at a huge loss and retreats to a farmhouse in upstate New York, thinking she’ll farm organic vegetables—except she has no idea how. But the house just happens to have room for her entire family.
Charles and Barbra, the children’s stepmother, begin in LA. The plan is to drive across country to Saina’s with a few stops along the way. (And then Charles thinks he’ll go to China and reclaim family land stolen by the Communists.) The first stop is to pick up his 16-year-old daughter Grace, who he shipped off to boarding school two years earlier when she fell in love with a boy. Grace is a typical teenager, obsessed with her fashion blog, Style & Grace.
The next stop is Arizona State University, where his 21-year-old son Andrew goes to school. Andrew isn’t serious about this studies because he wants to be a stand-up comedian. We see Andrew perform. The first few times we know the audience hates him, but even the time when he allegedly did well, I found reading his routine cringe-worthy. Obviously stand-up is a very different medium than novel writing, but it was painful, so I had to speed read through it.
The book wasn’t as funny as I expected it to be by the description, but I did think the writing was wonderful, and it was an intriguing perspective on that time in our nation’s history told through the story of immigrants Charles and Barbra and three adults or almost-adults who grew up here and have never wanted for anything—they have no idea how to budget, etc. because they never had to.
This is a fun, compelling read.
Center Ring by Nicole Waggoner
I enjoy books written from multiple points of view like this—in this case, five women in their thirties—because I can identify with certain aspects of each of the different characters’ personalities. There is Norah, a successful married physician whose professional life is great but whose personal life is in chaos. Cami, a photojournalist who suddenly finds her career headed in a surprisingly new direction. Leila, who has a PhD and had a great job as a professor but is now at home full time with her two young daughters. Ellie, a successful PR rep, whose personal life also is in—for her—uncharted territory. And Kate, a new mom, trying to navigate motherhood and an eating disorder. (I wanted to murder the judgmental moms she encountered in the poorly named mom “support group.”)
It’s fun to delve into the ups and downs of other women’s lives. Waggoner manages to juggle the multiple POVs well, keeping each of the perspectives clear and intriguing.