A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness

Book - 2004
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City's East Village. Instead she's trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: "the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a teenager." East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi's uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that's tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock 'n' roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o'clock.

Living with her father, Ray, a sweet yet hapless schoolteacher whose love is unconditional but whose parenting skills amount to benign neglect, Nomi struggles to cope with the back-to-back departures three years earlier of Tash, her beautiful and mouthy sister, and Trudie, her warm and spirited mother. Father and daughter deal with their losses in very different ways. Ray, a committed elder of the church, seeks to create an artificial sense of order by reorganizing the city dump late at night. Nomi, on the other hand, favours chaos as she tries to blunt her pain through "drugs and imagination." Together they live in a limbo of unanswered questions.

Nomi goes through the motions of finishing high school while flagrantly rebelling against Mennonite tradition. She hangs out on Suicide Hill, hooks up with a boy named Travis, goes on the Pill, wanders around town, skips class and cranks Led Zeppelin. But the past is never far from her mind as she remembers happy times with her mother and sister -- as well as the painful events that led them to flee town. Throughout, in a voice both defiant and vulnerable, she offers hilarious and heartbreaking reflections on life, death, family, faith and love.

Eventually Nomi's grief -- and a growing sense of hypocrisy -- cause her to spiral ever downward to a climax that seems at once startling and inevitable. But even when one more loss is heaped on her piles of losses, Nomi maintains hope and finds the imagination and willingness to envision what lies beyond.
Publisher: Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2004
ISBN: 9780676978568
Branch Call Number: TOEW
Characteristics: 246 p. : 20 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

darellee May 11, 2018

A Complicated Kindness tells the heartbreakingly funny story of Nomi Nickel coming of age in a small Mennonite town in southern Manitoba. Miriam Toews depicts teenage angst and exasperation with such humour and authenticity that you'll be laughing and crying at the same time. A Complicated Kindness won the Governor’s General Literary Award when it was published in 2004 and Canada reads in 2006. It is still a popular and relevant read for 2018.

Mar 06, 2017

This is one of my very favourite books and my favourite Miriam Toews book. Such an interesting story of growing up in a truly bizarre setting, and how this affects a young mind and a family. The title is just excellent for this book, describing the complicated kindness of the people in the narrator's town. Even more compelling is that it is semi-autobiographical. A book that made me laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, through finding humour in the darkest moments - Toewes's finest talent. Recommended if you liked Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

Feb 18, 2017

It is hard to write stream of consciousness book well, but Toews does. 16-year-old Nomi is lost but not just in the "typical teenager" lost sort of way. Two of the most important figures in her life have left her: her older sister and her mother. To top that all off, she lives in a conservative Mennonite town in Canada. She is not only struggling to understand the world around her as a typical teenager would but as a teenager going through a huge family crisis that leaves her questioning life, love, family, and what to do with herself.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny with Nomi's dry sense of humor and also tragically sad in its reflection of life and loss.

I feel it is thought provoking, introspective, and worth reading. I recommend this book to others.

Jan 30, 2017

It is hard to pinpoint why this book left me feeling 'eh', kind of flat. There were clever lines, funny moments and poignant scenes. For the most part, I found the juxtaposition of past and present vaguely annoying and slightly confusing, never quite sure if we were in a past or present moment. I can see why it would appeal to some, but I would not be quick to recommend it to many readers.

K_ROK Jun 09, 2015

I really tried to get into this book but I just couldn't finish. Perhaps because I was waiting for something grand/exciting to happen but I was too bored by the mundane prose. I did not even make it half way. The main character lacked a bit of depth with me and I had some sympathy at first, but then the main character got lazy and seemed to give up a bit and so did I.

AmberKlassen May 07, 2015

This novel has a lot of truths in it, but is merely the depiction of an adolescent who did not like her life and took no control or responsibility for her own actions.

Disappointed because there is not much to read about this unique culture/religion in Canada.

The star rating is for personal reference.

Apr 25, 2015

I found the book to be quite sad, and lacking hope for the characters. At the beginning there was a bit of humour inserted in the story, which helped keep me reading, but that lessened as the book progressed and I found the second half harder to read.

Mar 01, 2015

Did not find this book interesting. Her style of prose did not keep my interest either. I was as bored with it after the first few chapters just as the main character was bored. I figured out what was going to happen and read the last few pages and was right.

WVMLStaffPicks Jan 19, 2015

The pain of loss enfolds Nomi Nickel--teenage girl, confused Mennonite, and motherless daughter. Nomi is consumed by her struggle to understand why first her sister, and then her mother, would leave their relatively happy family, and just disappear into the night. Desperately latching onto Travis, a fellow teen also trying to see beyond the bonds of Mennonite righteousness, Nomi falls deeper into sorrowful rebellion. Only her father’s drastic sacrifice to save her brings Nomi to a place where she can contemplate the opportunity to be reunified with her family “somewhere in the real world”…which is not Main Street, Manitoba. This is a wonderful story of redemption, written with a poignancy and humour that make it bearable.

0Charlie Oct 22, 2014

What a wonderful main character - she has so many great one-liners! As I was reading this work, I kept saying to myself "nothing has happened" but it was still very entertaining. As cliched as it sounds, the power of love can change lives for the better. Highly recommended for anyone who feels like an outsider in their own world.

View All Comments


Add Notices

Jul 21, 2010

Coarse Language: This title contains Coarse Language.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at FSPL

To Top