Nomi Nickel is a rebellious 16-year-old in a small Mennonite community in Manitoba, Canada. Her mother and older sister both are missing (we don’t find out why until the end), and now she lives only with her somewhat disconnected dad Ray. Nomi doesn’t have much to look forward to except a job at a chicken slaughtering farm, and feels trapped as well by the ultraconservative religious strictures of her life. There is supposed to be no makeup, tattooing, sex, dancing, smoking, drugs, or rock-and-roll, although these taboos don’t stop Nomi. She has a boyfriend, Travis, but they don’t connect much except physically. And even that doesn’t seem very rewarding. The story, basically a stream of consciousness, a digressive monologue by Nomi, has been compared to Catcher In The Rye, with Nomi as a female Holden Caulfield. To me, Nomi seems also a bit like a non-pregnant Juno, the independent-minded character from the 2008 Oscar-winning screenplay by Diablo Cody.
Evaluation: Miriam Toews (pronounced Taves) does a great job of presenting us with the mind of a disaffected teenager, but really, do you want to hang out with one of those for a whole book? And actually I found the book quite depressing (even though some of it was darkly funny), because Nomi seemed to be on the edge of a breakdown, not a bit surprising given the destructive influence of her overly punitive community. And, like any teenager, a lot of her complaints, while well founded, were very repetitive. After a while, I wanted to escape Nomi and her life as much as Nomi did!
But don’t just listen to me! This book won the 2004 [Canadian] Governor General’s Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, Canada’s largest literary prize for fiction.
Published by Counterpoint, a member of the Perseus Books Group, 2004