A Complicated Kindness – Book review

I keep vowing not to read books that win awards. Then I go and pick up another one, read it and renew my vow. This was a classic example. As we know, I’m a slow reader. I’m also a reader who doesn’t like to give up part-way through. The result is that I wasted multiple hours of my life on this book. If you’re a fast reader, maybe it’s not so bad.

Warning: SPOILERS (if you can call it that for a book which has basically no plot).


It’s set in a Mennonite community, but with plenty of people who don’t seem to be Mennonites or at least don’t live in the way we might expect. I wish the author would make this a bit clearer, or in any sense clear at all. Oh, it was so frustrating.

One of the reviews on the back commended Teows for taking us so vividly into the Mennonite way of life. I think what they were trying to say is that the Mennonite way of life is evidently really boring (that’s the premise of the novel, I’m not imposing my own views here), and the novel is really boring too. It also encapsulates the life of a teenager-going-nowhere: also boring, and a bit depressing.

“Funny-sad”, comments another reviewer. The novel is definitely peppered with wry observations about the community and life of the narrator, but funny? It’s not what I’d call a comedy.

On the plus side, it is well-observed, the characters are believable and there are some touching scenes between the main character, Nomi, and her father. But they are not worth the hours spent on the rest of the book.

The précis on the cover claims that when Nomi discovers the truth about why her sister and Mum went away, she makes a bold decision that changes her life forever. In truth, there is no revelation about the sister, and the discovery about the Mum comes chronologically too early to be any sort of trigger for ending (we only discover it at the end of the novel, but Nomi has clearly known for a while). And that bold decision? Well the community decides to excommunicate her, her father decides to leave (or kill himself, depending on your interpretation) … Nomi pretty much bumbles along as she always has.



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