After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs...

SMALL GREAT THINGS

In Picoult’s (Leaving Time, 2014, etc.) latest novel, Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse, struggles to survive claims of murdering a patient while keeping her own family intact.

Picoult has made a name for herself crafting novels of depth and insight, peopled with rich characters and relationships. Here, she explores the intersection of racial bias, medicine, and the law. African-American Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse for more than 20 years, and she's the kind of professional every patient dreams of: she genuinely cares for her patients and takes joy in seeking out ways she can help them—whether it be a back rub or an epidural. But Ruth is completely thrown when a newborn baby’s parents, both white supremacists, demand that she be removed from their care team because they don't want a black person touching their child. In a moment of deliberate plot maneuvering, Ruth is left as the sole nurse on the child’s floor, and the baby goes into cardiac arrest and dies. Ruth, accused of hesitating before performing CPR, is charged with murder. There's no question that Picoult is a talented writer. The plot is suspenseful, the structure and pacing exquisite. But there is also no question that writing a story from the perspective of a black woman requires more racial consciousness than she displays here. At times the plot feels more like an intellectual exercise to understand racism than an organic exploration of a real person's life. The voice is that of a nonblack person discovering all at once that racism exists rather than that of a black person who has lived with racism her whole life. Picoult has drawn upon every black stereotype available: here is the black single mother, the angry black woman, the mammy, the maid, the teenage "thug," the exceptional token, and the grandstanding preacher. Alternating among the points of view of Ruth; the white supremacist father, Turk Bauer; and Ruth’s lawyer, Kennedy McQuarrie, Picoult is at her best when she lets the novel solidify into Kennedy’s narrative, the tale of a white woman who thinks she's more liberal than she actually is. It's Kennedy's journey of coming to terms with her own racist relatives and white privilege, as she realizes, for the first time, the pervasiveness of American racism, that is the real story here—and the novel would have been stronger if it had been written from this perspective throughout.

After she sets up a world in which racism thoroughly defines every aspect of character and plot, Picoult's conclusion occurs in a separate fairy-tale world where racism suddenly does not exist, resulting in a rather juvenile portrayal of racial politics in America.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-345-54495-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more