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Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I read Small Great Things during a time when racial animus seemed to be causing so much harm in America. I did some research before choosing to read it. I needed the book to have value to me, for the time and effort I planned to commit. I wanted the book to make me better somehow. If it could do that, then perhaps I could recommend it to others for similar reasons.

What I liked.

This is a book about consequences. I call it a picture book. For it depicts how we can take people, make negative assumptions about them, hinder them from having prosperous lives, limit their educational potential, send them countless messages to convince them they are inferior, and create a system that severely punishes them, whether they deserve it or not.

By depicting this, the book allows us to ask ourselves why does this happen? How could it be tolerated? The author tells the story from points of view that enable us to think about ourselves, critically, and determine if we are part of the problem, part of the solution, or both.

The first person POV forces you to engage in the story, doesn’t allow you to remain on the sidelines as a bystander, watching others passively. It makes you uncomfortable, forces you to feel the emotions, the guilt, the pain, anger and frustration of being lost in a world that appears to provide little more than wrong answers. Choices between lesser evils.

What is the message? Somethings are very wrong here. This should not be. This need not continue. It will, unless.

The 3 main POV characters are very real, well fleshed out human beings whose thoughts and beliefs are given great attention. Their family and friends are well developed and multidimensional too. This is a world you will recognize, as all too familiar. Just as much attention is paid to the thoughts as it is to the words that are spoken and the actions taken by the victim’s family, the accused, and the legal professionals handling the case.

I believe this is a courageous piece of fiction by Jodi Picoult. My hope is that more talented authors have the desire and willingness to do something like this. Make a real contribution to the reading community of something that they can use to improve their knowledge, their understanding, and their ability to grow morally. To find the difference between right and wrong, and choose justly.

What I didn’t like.

I have personally seen many people stand up and defend others who have been mistreated. So I know first hand what good things we are capable of. Yet why does it seem that the world around us is getting worse? Why do things appear so hopeless? Small Great Things is stuck in a world doomed to repeat its failures, with the resulting damage to our culture, our economy, and our future. Not good. Yet I can’t so much blame the book as much as I can recognize that the fault lies with the society that the book explores. If this is an accurate reflection of the world we live in, maybe the best thing to do is for us face the reality that our ship is taking on water. So let’s figure out how best to bail while we form a plan to plug the leak.

What you should know.

Jodi Picoult has mastered her craft. She is famous for the research she does into each novel. You will learn something. Will you like it? Will it entertain you? Should these be your main considerations? If the hardest things in life require the most effort, if they can only be achieved by having all available gifts and talents working together in a cohesive team with a common objective, what is your role? What are you doing about it? How much damage is your inaction causing? This book may help you find these answers.

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Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

What I liked.

This is a smart story. It’s action packed for those who like the genre. It is also suspenseful and stuffed with dramatic confrontations. It isn’t just smartly told. The prose is easy to follow with a good bit of humor for such a serious subject, an act of cyber warfare on the United States. This is one of the highly charged current topics up for debate as the modern world becomes more and more dependent on artificial intelligence and we realize how much of the essentials we take for granted are interconnected in an invisible cyberspace that has little, if any, existence in a tangible form.

Why is this an important issue all of us should think about? Here are some reasons. How much money do you have? What is the source of your income? Your savings? Your investments? Your health benefits? What physical proof of them exists? How much of our basic needs, water, electricity, communication, depend on the electronic grids that help facilitate them? How vulnerable are we individually and collectively as a society if we do not protect them well enough from potential enemies?

All of these ideas and more are addressed in this novel. But it’s all done in a very entertaining fashion. It doesn’t preach, lecture, or promote an ideologically biased point of view. It delivers the news. Then lets you, the reader figure things out for yourself.

On a deeper level the story is strong in the way it touches on key themes such as trust, integrity, political animosity, and prejudice. I applaud that effort because I think it’s true that if we don’t work on removing stereotypes and establish priorities that put the common interests of most people first so that we avoid trying to create winners and losers in every important area, we may wake up to find out that we have already lost what few other nations have ever had, a secure republic that works for every American who is willing to work hard to live with liberty and pursue what makes them happy.

What I didn’t like.

Some of the characters were not developed well at all. They were primarily present to move the plot along without delving deep enough into their motives or moral dilemmas. I’m not sure they even had any! So the problems a world power like the U.S. faces from external threats aren’t going to be fixed by such a simplistic worldview that is barely defined. I will admit that we have to figure out our internal problems before we can best understand foreign threats. So I hope the next novel following this, if there is one, makes an effort to look at where our enemies come from and what we can do to mitigate their creation.

What you should know.

This is a book for the average everyday reader. It isn’t full of technical, high level complexity. Although it has a message that everyone should consider. There is nothing wrong with simplifying things in order to make the story more enjoyable for most. If you are looking for the intricate details found in some of the more intellectual offerings from other authors, try not to be too disappointed. Think of it as a fun summer read.

Recommendation: Must Read

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Excerpt from The President is Missing

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Why you want to read The President is Missing:

Participation in our democracy seems to be driven by the instant-gratification worlds of Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, and the  twenty-four-hour news cycle. We’re using modern technology to revert to primitive kinds of human relations. The media knows what sells—conflict and division. It’s also quick and easy. All too often anger works better than answers; resentment better than reason; emotion trumps evidence. A sanctimonious, sneering one-liner, no matter how bogus, is seen as straight talk, while a calm, well-argued response is seen as canned and phony. It reminds me of the old political joke: Why do you take such an instant dislike to people? It saves a lot of time.

What happened to factual, down-the-middle reporting? That’s hard to even define anymore, as the lines between fact and fiction, between truth and lies, gets murkier every day.

We can’t survive without a free press, dedicated to preserving that fine line and secure enough to follow the facts where they lead. But the current environment imposes serious pressures on our journalists, at least those who cover politics, to do just the reverse—to exercise their own power and to, in the words of one wise columnist, “abnormalize” all politicians, even honest, able ones, often because of relatively insignificant issues.

Scholars call this a false equivalency. It means that when you find a mountain to expose in one person or party, you have to pick a molehill on the other side and make it into a mountain to avoid being accused of bias. The built-up molehills also have large benefits: increased coverage on the evening news, millions of retweets, and more talk-show fodder. When the mountains and molehills all looks the same, campaigns and governments devote too little time and energy debating the issues that matter most to our people. Even when we try to do that, we’re often drowned out by the passion of the day.

There’s a real cost to this. It breeds more frustration, polarization, paralysis, bad decisions, and missed opportunities. But with no incentive to actually accomplish something, more and more politicians just go with the flow, fanning the flames of anger and resentment, when they should be acting as the fire brigade. Everybody knows it’s wrong, but the immediate rewards are so great we stagger on, just assuming that our Constitution, our public institutions, and the rule of law can endure each new assault without doing permanent damage to our freedoms and way of life.

I’d say this novel is a must read.

From Chapter 8 The President is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson) © Little, Brown and Company