I didn't know much about A Complicated Kindness when I picked it off the shelf a few days ago. I knew it won the 2006 Canada Reads competition but that's about it. If you're like me, I'll enlighten you.
Nomi Nickel is a 16 year old living with her father in a Mennonite community in southern Manitoba. Three years previous, her sister and mother left town, separately, and she's hasn't heard from either since. Her father, a quiet and kind man, raises Nomi in a style he calls benign neglect. Really, he's as shell shocked by this fracture as Nomi is. Although Nomi worries about her father, she lives recklessly, skipping school and getting high.
Nomi sees no future for herself in this strict community and appears to be giving into despair. She wishes she could be living in New York where she could be anyone other than a girl destined for a career as chicken decapitator at Happy Family Farms. Outwardly, the townspeople see her tough, sarcastic and cynical side, but inside she's fragile; a girl trying to make sense of the events that lead up to the disappearance of 'the better looking half' of her family and wondering how to go on.
A Complicated Kindness is both funny and heart breaking. At first, I found Nomi and Ray quirky but by the end I was so sad for them both. Nomi and her family could have done so much if they had been allowed to feel that they could. Instead, they're trapped by rigid and baffling rules, while waiting for the Rapture. Still, the Mennonite community could be any community, while their religious beliefs don't allow anyone different to flourish, in another small town it might be small mindedness or gossip.
I don't think the people of East Village (Nomi's town) realize how much in common she has with their founder Menno Simons:
"Five hundred years ago in Europe a man named Menno Simons set off to do his own peculiar religious thing and he and his followers were beaten up and killed or forced to conform all over Holland, Poland, and Russia until they, at least some of them, finally landed right here where I sit."
Nomi is doing her 'own peculiar religious thing', questioning the rules The Mouth (her uncle) is forcing her to conform to.
At the end of the novel, I felt drained. I wanted to hug this tough kid who desperately needed a mother. I also had more questions than answers: What really happened to her mother? What is wrong with Lids? And what will happen to Nomi? But as Nomi says herself, "I've got a problem with endings."
This is a book I'll definitely read again, but not if I'm feeling really blue.
Also Reviewed By: Teddy @ So Many Precious Books...