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A Complicated Kindness

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  24,010 ratings  ·  1,643 reviews
In this stunning coming-of-age novel, award-winner Miriam Toews balances grief and hope in the voice of a witty, beleaguered teenager whose family is shattered by fundamentalist Christianity.

"Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing," Nomi Nickel tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, her days are spent
Paperback, 253 pages
Published August 17th 2005 by Counterpoint LLC (first published September 30th 2004)
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Meagan When we feel rejected, as did Quiring, because Trudie chose her family over him - we do spiteful, hateful things. Every action we do, has a reation - …moreWhen we feel rejected, as did Quiring, because Trudie chose her family over him - we do spiteful, hateful things. Every action we do, has a reation - Trudie had an affair with Quiring because she lost her older daughter, she then realized her mistake, Quiring threatened her with accusations, Trudie saved those notes, Nomi wrote her final school paper about the effects those accusations had on the three people left in her family - her father, mother, and herself. Quiring's threats had consequences, and destroyed people in the process. I don't believe that she opened Mrs. K's doors to numerous men - I believe it was one - Quiring. (less)
Jennifer The underage members of the Mennonite communities are not included in the shunning meetings. I suspect Trudie was shunned and that is why she disappea…moreThe underage members of the Mennonite communities are not included in the shunning meetings. I suspect Trudie was shunned and that is why she disappeared. Leaving in silence because while Trudie questioned some of the church's teachings not all of them and maybe not enough to stay in the area openly oppose the church. Doing so could mean her husband and daughter becoming targets of the church as well.

Or the church could have sent her off as a forced missionary in an attempt to bring her alongside with their regulations.

Ray is less questioning than his wife but is broken by her absence. (less)

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4+ My opinion of ‘A Complicated Kindness’ changed over the course of reading it. In the beginning, I found the narrative a bit tedious, filled with teenage angst, and difficult to follow. A coming-of-age story that gently pulled me into the raw honesty of a confused, bewildered, and semi-rebellious protagonist. I say semi-rebellious because Nomi Nickels retains warmth and respect for her father, Ray, throughout. They seem birds of a feather, marked with an indecisiveness that creates ripples, th ...more
Meh... I know several of my esteemed colleagues highly rated this one but it just didn't do it for me. There were too many unanswered questions and not enough closure. So what happened to the mom and sister? What happened to father and her best friend? What did she end up doing with her new found freedom and life? And what was up with that thing from Mr. Quiring? I think I totally got lost on that part. I plodded along the book waiting for something to happen and it just didn't. I did enjoy her ...more
Peter Boyle
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a bittersweet story this is. The narrator is a lost and confused soul, trapped in a situation that is not of her own making. But she also has such an amusing way of looking at the world. I rooted for her as I read, hoping that she could find some kind of way out of the predicament she was in.

Nomi Nickel is a sixteen-year-old girl living in the fictional Mennonite community of East Village, somewhere in Canada. Her family has recently been torn apart - her older sister Tash ran away to the c
As I read Miriam Toews' A Complicated Kindness, I couldn't stop thinking about Richard Dawkins' assertion that religion is child abuse.

Looking around at our neighbours and friends, ourselves and our parents, it is easy to laugh off this idea. We may see our churches doing good works in the community; they may be providing relief for Haiti or some other disaster struck land; they may be providing shelter for the homeless or the physically abused; their beliefs and morality may be providing guidan
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Miriam Toews goes deep into the arcane world of Canadian Mennonite teens for the shocking expose that they enjoy pot and fucking. Well pot anyway. You think you live in a civilized society but women are reporting that the best case scenario for their first times is still "disappointing." I don't know what we're going to do about that. Start giving teenage boys vibrating cock rings?

Anyway, file book this under "Semi-autobiographical memoirs dispatched from unusual situations," which is a wide and
Dec 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
it was hard to let this book end. as the remaining pages dwindled and dwindled, i found more and more things to do instead of reading. maybe i should brush my teeth. maybe i should check my email. maybe i should sleep even though i have ONE PAGE TO GO.

part of it is that miriam toews is a genius at creating truly compelling characters. nomi is a gas. nomi is the kid you always wanted to be -- funny, smart, sassy, resourceful, a world-champion bullshit detector, unbelievably creative, sweet, lovin
♛ may
I'm going to refer to this as the 'chicken book'

Required school reading

And I have finally completed the chicken book.

With books that I must read for school, I’m often at a loss when I’m asked how I feel about them personally.

I don’t know how I feel about the book, I don’t know how I feel about the characters, and I don’t know how I feel about the ending.


But I do think we all have a bit of Nomi in us.

Nomi’s a snarky, sarcastic, confused sixteen year-old girl who’s just trying to find h
Diane Barnes
May 09, 2021 rated it liked it
This book was a real downer and quite a disappointment. I almost dnf'd it at several points but decided to plow on because I really loved the main character of Nomi Nickel. A sarcastic 16 year old, we are treated to her thoughts and comments about her community of Mennonites, which, as far as I'm concerned, are sadists who use religion as mind control. But then, a lot of sects do the the same thing.

This is my first book by Toews, bought at a book sale a couple of years ago and pulled off my shel
Saadia  B.
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
It’s complicated and it’s kind.

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"some people can leave and some can't and those who can will always be infinitely cooler than those who can't and I'm one of the ones who can't because you're one of the ones who did and there's this old guy in a wool suit sitting in an empty house who has no one but me now thank you very, very, very much."

Small towns pretty much suck. Small towns in rural Manitoba in wintertime blow chunks. But imagine a small town in rural Manitoba in wintertime that is not just small, it is populated by h
John Gilbert
I'm once again going to have to disagree with my GR friend Jodi and a few others, although this is one of my favourite types of book (coming of age) and I love a creative dialogue (this was indeed creative), but the entire story was just too sad, negative and downright scary at times. Where is the humanity in this Mennonite community? Where is the parenting? Who is running the schools?

Nomi is 16 (well at least for some of it as Ms Toews goes back and forth so much I was getting whiplash), her si
Jan 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
“I hated it” was my loud outburst when a nice polite dinner conversation with friends turned to the discussion of this book. My outburst surprised me, not because it was loud and obnoxious since I am often guilty of being both, but because I didn’t know that I had such passion for this book! I had no idea I “hated it” until the words came tumbling out of my mouth.

Until that time, I think I would have described my thoughts about the book as ambivalent. I found the whole thing to be rather tediou
Aug 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Governor General’s Award 2004
Shortlisted for Giller 2006
Winner Canada Reads 2006

Half-way through reading A Complicated Kindness it struck me that the only way Miriam Toews could write in such an authentic voice would be if she herself had grown up in a Mennonite community. Sure enough, Miriam WAS raised Mennonite in small town Steinbach, Manitoba. There was a Mennonite Village Museum there when she grew up. “That is taken right out of my life,” she says in an Interview with Dave Weich (Nov. 8, 2
I'm may be running out of ways to say how much I loved this book, but I like to keep my reviews simple—since I write them for myself—so suffice to say that this book gave me "all the feels", more than perhaps anything I've ever read. And I have read some fairly heady stuff. (There was my Russian period in my early 20s when I read only Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. My late 20s was my CanLit period—Davies, Mitchell, MacLellan, Richler. In my 30s I read Rand, Steinbeck, and Irving.) But now that I'm in ...more
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
My experience with Toews' writing began with her latest, "Women Talking," and I might not have read her previous work had I not already bought them. These impulsive purchases of three books written by the same author, whose writing I had never read, was motivated by a critique of her work posted on Literary Hub. LitHub never steered me wrong before, so I was a bit disappointed after reading Women Talking. Still, I persevered.

An Uncomplicated Kindness is a masterpiece. I had written an entire des
Clif Hostetler
Sep 21, 2022 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel
I read this novel in 2006± soon after it was published. It was the first book I read by the author Miriam Toews, and since then I’ve read and written reviews of eight other novels by her. A Complicated Kindness was written prior to my Goodreads.com days, thus I had no review of it. Recently when I saw the Kindle edition of this book available at a low price so I decided to read it again to refresh my memory and write this review.

This book is narrated from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old gi
Oct 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
(A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus.)

I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona. I ran away to Barcelona because of a girl. Also I’d been grumpy and mopey for the previous month or so, due to the whole uncertain future thing, so really the whole disappointment with the girl just kind of tipped me over the edge. I figured I could fritter my money away while moping in Edinburgh, or I could fritter it away travelling.

I’d never really bothered to
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My friend Stefanie (who recommended the book) and I share a love of reading but rarely do our Venn diagrams overlap except when it comes to novels about alienated, mixed-up teens.

Nomi Nickel joins Daniel Handler's Flannery Culp (The Basic Eight) as one of my favorite characters. Like Flan, Nomi is a bright, sympathetic teen-ager struggling to create a reasonably happy life for herself.

She's also, like Flan, one of the least reliable narrators in the history of literature.

The Nickels are Mennonit
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it
A Complicated Kindness is about a 16 year girl living in a repressive Mennonite community with her father. She has been left behind after the departure of her sister and mother. The novel felt charming at first, but the narrator's flippancy soon became grating. I was just relieved when it was over - too much teenage angst for me. I like Miriam Toews' writing though and plan to read "All My Puny Sorrows" at some point. ...more
Sally Hanan
Nov 20, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library, literary
I honestly don't know how this won any prizes at all. If you want to know what happens in the book, it's all summarized in about three pages at the end. It's like the author found all her diaries forty years later in life and decided they'd be great in a book. Day after day of mindless things happening and thoughts about it all. I wish I hadn't wasted any time reading it.

Then again, isn't that classic literature - day after day of mindless details? Maybe that's why it got all the prizes....
Connie G
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Nomi Nickel is the narrator of this novel set in a rural Mennonite town in Manitoba, Canada. She lives with her religious father Ray since her older sister exited the repressive town, followed a few months later by her mother. Nomi is a rebellious sixteen-year-old who tells her story in flashbacks filled with cynical humor. She would love to escape to New York City, but does not want to leave her father alone. She also wonders if she'll burn in hell someday if she totally abandons the Mennonite ...more
Lindsay Hunter
Dec 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a goddamn masterpiece and anyone who loves Catcher in the Rye will love this even more. Stunning. Toews murders on every page.
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, canada-reads
How do you get out of a bad situation if you don't even know it's bad? Or what if you don't know what else is out there? Toews tells her story through the eyes of Nomi Nickel, a 15 year old girl living in the small Mennonite community of East Village, MB. Here, when you finish with high school, you can work at the Mennonite tourist museum or at the local chicken slaughterhouse. Death is the ultimate goal and many Mennos wish it would come sooner. The fear-mongering Menno preacher, 'The Mouth,' c ...more
Lise Petrauskas
This book was so funny and sad at the same time that I was on an emotional roller coaster the whole time I was reading it, bursting out laughing one minute and feeling all "awwww, my heart" the next. I finished it last night and was completely wrecked and yet immediately wanted to start it from the beginning. This is an oddly suspenseful book, too, for one that deals with such quiet subject-matter. Toews managed to write about very small, daily things and maintain my interest in the over all nar ...more
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 5000-2019, dec-19
(I read this novel for book club)
A Complicated Kindness and a Complicated Book!
The synopsis really appealed to me yet the only thing I truly enjoyed about this novel was that the author helped me to reminisce about my years in the 70's. I shared fond memories with the main character as she loved Jesus Christ Superstar and Love's Baby Soft.
I found this story read like someone's disjointed diary.
Too many unanswered questions and not enough closure left me bewildered at the end.
Miriam Toews's third novel - and the first one I've read - won the Governor General's Award for Fiction and was nominated for the Giller Prize; it also won the 2006 edition of Canada reads, the first book by a female novelist to do so.

A Complicated Kindness is narrated by the sixteen year old Nomi Nickel, a Canadian girl living in a small town of East Village in Manitoba, near the American border, during the 1970's and 1980's. Young Nomi daydreams about living in New York City, the "real" East
Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse)
I appreciated this book much more on re-read (it's hard to pick a fave of hers - but at least I now have all three that I've read so far clearly in my mind). I am still slightly more impressed with the two that followed, The Flying Troutmans and Irma Voth, but it's only because ... because ... why? It's now the merest gradation of five star-dom that separate them.

There is no doubt that Nomi's 'voice' is a spectacular accomplishment. Distill it, and each drop is pure essence du Toews.

I think tha
Jan 03, 2009 rated it liked it
I’ve let a few days pass since I finished this book, but I have to admit I’m still not sure what to make of it… It was highly recomended to me and proved to be a very interesting read but I feel like I missed out on much of its meaning.

Written in the voice of Nomi, it follows her trains of thought from one idea to the next, from past to present, from misery to humour, from memory to hope… I found the resulting account difficult to follow and get caught in. But at the same time it brings us strai
Megan Baxter
Sep 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a reread, but it had been many years since I'd last read A Complicated Kindness. When I sat down with it again, I remembered that I'd thought it was great, but not many of the details why. It didn't take long. About three pages in, there was a line that nearly took my breath away, the main character measuring how long it's been since she last saw her mother by how many times she's had her period. The idea is powerful, the way it was phrased utterly heartbreaking.

Note: The rest of this r
Apr 10, 2022 rated it really liked it
i don't know what to make of this book. The main character is not like any Mennonite i know. Maybe that's the idea. It was entertaining; it kept me reading, wondering what was going to happen next, in this small community without a train station or liquor store, where nothing happens. When a train passes by, Nomi, the 16 (sometimes 13) year old main character, goes to the tracks to watch the grafitti go by at 100kph. It's the only colour to be seen in town.

Other things that stood out > the first
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To Be Renamed... ...: May 2018 - A Complicated Kindness 5 18 May 30, 2018 11:44AM  
500 Great Books B...: A Complicated Kindness - Miriam Toews - Jen 1 29 Aug 12, 2014 12:20PM  

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Miriam Toews is a Canadian writer of Mennonite descent. She grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba and has lived in Montreal and London, before settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Toews studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of King's College in Halifax, and has also worked as a freelance newspaper and radio journalist. Her non-fiction book "Swing Low: A Life" was a memoir of her father, a vi

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