A Small Matter of Injustice

Fiction - Historical - Personage
605 Pages
Reviewed on 03/06/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jennifer Ibiam for Readers' Favorite

A Small Matter of Injustice by Richard J. Reese is the story of seventeen-year-old Carrie Buck and the fight for her life. Carrie was taken into the home of John and Alice Dobbs as a foster child but becomes an indentured servant, deprived of education. Things come to a head when Alice’s nephew rapes Carrie during his summer holiday, and she falls pregnant. The family takes her child and ships her off to a colony for epileptics and the feebleminded to hide their shame. Her woes are compounded when Dr. Priddy and then Dr. Bell advocate, with the help of Attorney Strode, to sterilize her, but Carrie won't have it. She hires a lawyer. Unbeknownst to Carrie, she is in a nest of vipers and does not know who is a friend and who is a foe. What is Carrie’s fate?

A Small Matter of Injustice by Richard J. Reese is a beautiful spin on history and fiction that held me spellbound. The novel is a brilliant choice for lovers of law and medicine, especially the study of eugenics. I loved the development, characters, and storyline because they were seamless. The author left his touch by giving me a glimpse into each character’s thoughts. Reese also knows when to pile on the suspense and get straight to the point. This book was a story in a story, and I loved the synergy between both. My favorite character is Carrie. She is witty, bright, and so unfairly treated by everyone. I didn't think Carrie was a moron or an imbecile. Who are we to judge others? The storyline showed me the decay behind the justice system. Is there indeed superior stock? We all should talk about eugenics. Thank you, Reese.

Viga Boland

Given how much I disliked history in high school, I surprised myself by deciding to read A Small Matter of Injustice by Richard J Reese. That’s the power of a well-worded description; how could I resist learning more about Carrie Buck who, in the 1920s, was raped, gave birth to a daughter, and then institutionalized because she was classified as feeble-minded? Why and how did this happen to Carrie? The answer to why is an ugly one that we don’t like to associate with North America, but when you read the white supremacy issues explored in this story, you come away asking yourself how much American attitudes and practices differed from those of Nazi Germany? You might find yourself both surprised and saddened. With the help of a lawyer who eventually comes to see how Carrie is being victimized in the courts by doctors and lawyers seeking to elevate their careers and social standing, Carrie speaks her truth. But her human rights as a woman are no defense against plotting, self-indulgent, smart-talking male lawyers and bored judges. How can justice prevail? It can’t, and doesn’t.

It is with these controversies that Richard J Reese begins this eye-opening work of historical fiction. His first chapter introduces readers to Stadler, a Nazi doctor on trial in 1947 for carrying out mass sterilizations. We don’t learn the outcome of his trial until the last chapters of the book. That’s because Reese then takes readers back to the 1920s to meet, maybe even fall a bit in love with the anything but feeble-minded Carrie Buck. Carrie is potty-mouthed, feisty, and determined that no doctor is going to fiddle with her innards so she can never again bear a child who might be an imbecile like her. Carrie’s stance is not a far cry from today’s women incensed by the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

As a well-researched work of historical fiction, the author has felt it necessary to include a large number of backstories on the key, still familiar people who decided the reproductive rights of Carrie and others like her. For some readers, this large amount of information in A Small Matter of Injustice will slow down the pace of the narration. But it is the captivating personality of Carrie, which so sharply contrasts with those of her despicable, name-calling oppressors that keeps us turning those pages. The colorful street language of Carrie and her institutionalized girlfriends, along with their pasts, keep us enthralled and entertained. The result? A surprisingly engrossing and unforgettable historical novel.

Grant Leishman

A Small Matter of Injustice by Richard J Reese is a fascinating yet disturbing look at the study of eugenics and how it was used to justify the sterilization of mainly women in mental institutions across the United States in the early part of the twentieth century. Long before Nazi Germany took the tenets of racial purity to its barbaric and awful conclusion, lawmakers in the United States were already testing and passing laws based on this idea of selective breeding as it applies to human beings. When Carrie Buck, a seventeen-year-old girl, is sent to the Virginia Colony for the feeble-minded to cover up her rape by her foster parents’ nephew, she joins both her mother and grandmother who are already incarcerated in the institution. When colony director Dr. Albert Priddy tests young Carrie, he determines she is a moron or imbecile and as such should not be allowed to reproduce and pass on her feeble-mindedness to further generations. She is a prime candidate for sterilization. When Carrie demands a lawyer to protect her rights, she sets in motion a legal journey that will ultimately end up in the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court. In question is the right of the State to pass laws that impinge on the rights of individuals to bodily protection while held in State custody, especially when it is against their will.

When historical fiction blends with historical fact it shines at its brightest, as it does in A Small Matter of Injustice. The historical facts of Carrie Buck’s fight to maintain her fertility and her dignity are well documented and Richard J Reese uses this case beautifully to illustrate the dangers of lawmakers, predominately white males, in passing laws that impinge on the rights of marginalized groups in society. Echoes of Roe V Wade and Loving vs Virginia resonate throughout this fascinating and informative narrative. I, for one, was unaware that doctors in Nazi Germany accused of medical atrocities during the Nazi era had attempted to use the Buck case as justification for their own cruel, barbaric, and bizarre interpretation of the science of eugenics. The principal characters in this drama, especially at the level of the Supreme Court will be well-known names from history, such as Oliver Wendell Home Jr. and William Howard Taft, former U.S. President, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the time. I found these characters of justice to be fascinating and at times just a little frightening in that they could wield such power over people’s lives. Lost in the legal drama was the fact that Carrie Buck was not a moron, an imbecile, or any of the other labels that were attached to her. She was a woman of limited learning but rational and intelligent. It was sad she ended up in the position she did and was somewhat of an indictment of the patriarchy prevalent at the time. This is a chunky, satisfying read which I enjoyed and can highly recommend.