Toews captures the spurts and lurches of adolescent growth in a tale as crude and fresh as its subject matter.

A COMPLICATED KINDNESS

An amusing if somewhat rambling account by Canadian author Toews (Swing Low: A Life, 2001) of a teenaged girl growing up in the middle of nowhere.

All adolescents think they live in the dorkiest place in the world, but 16-year-old Nomi Nickle maybe really does. Her hometown of East Village, Manitoba, you see, is populated almost entirely by Mennonites, an austere Christian sect. East Village has a movie theater but no bars, discos, pool halls, McDonald’s, or Starbucks—and even the theater specializes in films about Menno Simons (who founded the religion and named it after himself). So it’s not really an MTV kind of place. But that doesn’t keep Nomi or her sister Tash from throwing themselves into the usual adolescent cauldron of hormones, scorn, and rebellion. Tash eventually runs away from home with her boyfriend Ian, and Nomi dreams of moving to the real East Village (in New York) and hanging out with Lou Reed. Even Nomi’s mother, Trudie, whose brother Hans (“the mouth”) is the town’s equivalent of the Pope, gets fed up with life among the elect and runs off to parts unknown, leaving Nomi alone with her sweet-hearted but ineffectual and very depressed father, Ray. Nomi copes by ignoring her studies, partying with the other slackers, and hanging out with her boyfriend Travis (who plays guitar and likes to run naked through wheat fields). It’s all on the gloomy side, but, if Nomi is to be believed, that’s what Mennonite life is all about (“A Mennonite telephone survey might consist of questions like, would you prefer to live or die a cruel death, and if you answer ‘live’ the Menno doing the survey hangs up on you”). Still, like any normal teenager, Nomi can’t imagine anything right about her family. Perhaps she’s the one who has the changing to do.

Toews captures the spurts and lurches of adolescent growth in a tale as crude and fresh as its subject matter.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2004

ISBN: 1-58243-321-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one...

THE JOY LUCK CLUB

An inordinately moving, electric exploration of two warring cultures fused in love, focused on the lives of four Chinese women—who emigrated, in their youth, at various times, to San Francisco—and their very American 30-ish daughters.

Tan probes the tension of love and often angry bewilderment as the older women watch their daughters "as from another shore," and the daughters struggle to free themselves from maddening threads of arcane obligation. More than the gap between generations, more than the dwindling of old ways, the Chinese mothers most fear that their own hopes and truths—the secret gardens of the spirit that they have cultivated in the very worst of times—will not take root. A Chinese mother's responsibility here is to "give [my daughter] my spirit." The Joy Luck Club, begun in 1939 San Francisco, was a re-creation of the Club founded by Suyuan Woo in a beleaguered Chinese city. There, in the stench of starvation and death, four women told their "good stories," tried their luck with mah-jongg, laughed, and "feasted" on scraps. Should we, thought Suyuan, "wait for death or choose our own happiness?" Now, the Chinese women in America tell their stories (but not to their daughters or to one another): in China, an unwilling bride uses her wits, learns that she is "strong. . .like the wind"; another witnesses the suicide of her mother; and there are tales of terror, humiliation and despair. One recognizes fate but survives. But what of the American daughters—in turn grieved, furious, exasperated, amused ("You can't ever tell a Chinese mother to shut up")? The daughters, in their confessional chapters, have attempted childhood rebellions—like the young chess champion; ever on maternal display, who learned that wiles of the chessboard did not apply when opposing Mother, who had warned her: "Strongest wind cannot be seen." Other daughters—in adulthood, in crises, and drifting or upscale life-styles—tilt with mothers, one of whom wonders: "How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?"

With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one that matches the vigor and sensitivity of Maxine Hong Kingston (The Warrior Woman, 1976; China Men, 1980) in her tributes to the abundant heritage of Chinese-Americans.

Pub Date: March 22, 1989

ISBN: 0143038095

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989

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Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her...

DISTANT SHORES

Another middle-aged mom in a muddle.

After years of false starts and big hopes, Elizabeth’s ruggedly handsome husband Jack, a former football star, just landed a spot as a sportscaster on national news. He still loves her, even though much younger women are giving him come-hither looks. Heck, he doesn’t want to betray the love of his life after she helped him kick drugs and stuck by him even when he was a struggling has-been. And won’t it seem hypocritical if he fools around with his sexy assistant while he does in-depth reporting on a rape case involving a famous basketball center? Well, he fools around anyway. Elizabeth, nicknamed Birdie, knows nothing of this, but she withdraws from Jack when her hard-drinking, salt-of-the-earth father has a stroke and dies. Now no one will call her “sugar beet” ever again. Time to return home to Tennessee and contend with Anita, the sort-of-evil stepmother so trashy she wears pink puffy slippers all day long. Naturally, it turns out that Anita actually has a heart of gold and knows a few things about Birdie’s dead mother that were hushed up for years. Mom was an artist, just like Birdie, and an old scandal comes to light as Anita unrolls a vibrant canvas that portrays her secret lover. Perhaps, Birdie muses, her mother died of heartbreak, never having followed her true love or developed her talent. Has she, too, compromised everything she holds dear? Hoping to find out, Birdie joins a support group that promises to reconnect confused women with their passion. She and Jack separate, prompting a how-dare-you fit from their grown daughters. Will Birdie fly her empty nest? Will she go back to college for a degree in art? Will her brooding watercolors ever sell?

Soft-focus story moves right along with few surprises. This time around, Hannah avoids the soap-opera complications of her previous tales (Summer Island, 2001, etc.).

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-45071-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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