Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A teenager navigates through the complexities of family, faith, and small-town life in a Mennonite community.


"A Complicated Kindness" by Miriam Toews is a captivating novel that delves into the complexities of family, faith, and the struggle for independence. Set in a small Mennonite town in Manitoba, Canada, the story follows the life of Nomi Nickel, a teenage girl grappling with the constraints of her community and the unraveling of her family. Through Nomi's poignant and often humorous narration, the novel offers a profound exploration of the human spirit and the quest for personal freedom.

Brief Synopsis

The novel takes place in the town of East Village, a close-knit Mennonite community. Nomi Nickel, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, is navigating the challenges of adolescence while wrestling with the restrictions imposed by her religious upbringing. Her mother and sister have both left the town, leaving Nomi alone with her father, Ray, who is struggling with his own inner demons. As Nomi witnesses the disintegration of her family and community, she grapples with her own desires for independence and self-discovery.

Plot Overview and Setting

The story is set in a conservative Mennonite town, where strict religious beliefs and traditions govern every aspect of daily life. Nomi, the protagonist, finds herself at odds with these constraints, yearning for freedom and individuality. As she observes the unraveling of her family and the stifling nature of her community, she begins to question the values and expectations imposed upon her.

Main Characters

The novel features a range of compelling characters whose interactions shape the narrative and contribute to its emotional depth.

Nomi NickelThe sixteen-year-old protagonist who is struggling to find her identity amidst the constraints of her Mennonite community.
Ray NickelNomi's father, who is grappling with his own inner turmoil and the loss of his wife and other daughter.
Trudie NickelNomi's mother, who has left the town and her family behind, leaving Nomi to navigate life without her guidance.
Tash NickelNomi's older sister, who has also left the town, leaving Nomi feeling abandoned and alone.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

The novel unfolds through a series of poignant and often darkly humorous events that shape Nomi's journey towards self-discovery and independence.

Chapters 1-3

Nomi introduces the reader to the town of East Village and provides insight into the oppressive nature of the Mennonite community. She reflects on her family's fractured dynamics and the absence of her mother and sister.

Chapters 4-6

Nomi navigates the complexities of her relationships within the town, including her interactions with her friends and the adults in her life. She grapples with her growing disillusionment with the community's ideals.

Chapters 7-9

The novel delves deeper into Nomi's internal struggles and her attempts to break free from the constraints of her upbringing. She confronts the limitations imposed by her father and the community's expectations.

Chapters 10-12

Nomi's journey takes a poignant turn as she confronts the realities of her family's disintegration and her own yearning for personal autonomy. She begins to question the beliefs and traditions that have shaped her life.

Chapters 13-15

As Nomi's internal turmoil intensifies, she grapples with the impact of her family's fractured relationships and the sense of abandonment she feels. Her quest for independence becomes increasingly urgent.

Main Events

The novel is punctuated by significant events that shape Nomi's emotional and psychological landscape.

Nomi's mother and sister leaving the townThis event triggers Nomi's sense of abandonment and intensifies her desire to break free from the community's constraints.
Nomi's interactions with her friends and peersThese interactions provide insight into the dynamics of the community and Nomi's growing disillusionment.
Ray Nickel's struggles and emotional turmoilNomi's father's inner turmoil adds another layer of complexity to her familial relationships and her quest for independence.

Themes and Insights

The novel encompasses several overarching themes that offer profound insights into the human experience and the pursuit of personal freedom.

Family and Community

The novel explores the complexities of familial relationships and the impact of community dynamics on individual identity. Nomi's experiences highlight the ways in which family and community expectations can shape and constrain personal growth.

Identity and Independence

Nomi's quest for independence and self-discovery serves as a central theme, shedding light on the universal struggle to define one's identity in the face of societal and cultural norms. Her journey offers profound insights into the human desire for autonomy and individuality.

Loss and Abandonment

The novel delves into the profound impact of loss and abandonment, exploring the emotional and psychological repercussions of fractured family relationships. Nomi's experiences illuminate the universal themes of grief and the quest for emotional resilience.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Complicated Kindness" offers readers a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant exploration of the complexities of family, faith, and the pursuit of personal freedom. Through Nomi's poignant narration, the novel delves into universal themes of identity, loss, and the human spirit's resilience. Readers are likely to find themselves deeply engaged with the characters' emotional journeys and the profound insights the novel offers into the human experience.


Miriam Toews' "A Complicated Kindness" is a captivating and emotionally rich novel that offers a compelling exploration of the human spirit's resilience in the face of familial and societal constraints. Through Nomi's poignant narration, the novel delves into the universal themes of family, faith, and the quest for personal independence, leaving readers with a profound and thought-provoking reflection on the complexities of the human experience.

A Complicated Kindness FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Complicated Kindness'?

    The genre of 'A Complicated Kindness' is contemporary fiction.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Complicated Kindness'?

    The author of 'A Complicated Kindness' is Miriam Toews.

  3. What is the main theme of 'A Complicated Kindness'?

    The main themes of 'A Complicated Kindness' include the struggle for individuality, the impact of strict religious communities, and the search for freedom and independence.

  4. Is 'A Complicated Kindness' suitable for young adult readers?

    While 'A Complicated Kindness' deals with mature themes, it is often recommended for young adult readers due to its relatable protagonist and coming-of-age themes.

  5. What is the setting of 'A Complicated Kindness'?

    The story is set in a small, conservative Mennonite town in Canada.