Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Mennonite In A Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Published 2009 by Henry Holt and Company
Source: borrowed from my mom

Publisher's Summary:
Not long after Rhoda Janzen turned forty, her world turned upside down. It was bad enough that her husband of fifteen years left her for Bob, a guy he met on, but that same week a car accident left her injured. Needing a place to rest and pick up the pieces of her life, Rhoda packed her bags, crossed the country, and returned to her quirky Mennonite family's home, where she was welcomed back with open arms and offbeat advice. (Rhoda's good-natured mother suggested she get over her heartbreak by dating her first cousin—he owned a tractor, see.)

My Thoughts:
Rhoda Janzen was raised a Mennonite then married an atheist after she broke away. She spent 15 years with a husband who suffered from bipolar disorder, never held a job for long, didn't let her put up family pictures in their home, and frequently became verbally and physically abusive. But that wasn't the stuff that really hurt. It was having him leave her for another man with a mortgage she couldn't afford. And, oh yeah, that terrible car accident. Sounds like some serious drama stuff, doesn't it? Obviously it was. At the time. But Janzen is living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Also, as Dorothy said, there's no place like home. Better yet, looking back, she is also able to find a lot of humor in her survival, thanks in no small part to her upbringing.

Janzen writes both lovingly and honestly about life growing up as a Mennonite. It wasn't easy. Beside the fact that they always had to bring their lunches from home (in lunch bags that were not the cool latest cartoon characters favorites of all of the other kids), were never allowed to wear jeans, and were almost friendless outside of the Mennonite community, the Janzen kids also had one of the leaders of the Mennonite community as their father.
"Dad is one of those people to whom everybody listens. No matter who you are, you do not snooze through this man's sermons. Even if you are an atheist, you find yourself nodding and thinking, Preach it, mister! 
Well, not nodding. Maybe you imagine you're nodding. But in this scenario you are in a Mennonite church, which means you sit very still and worship Jesus with all your heart, mind, and soul, only as if a snake had bitten you, and you are now in the last stages of paralysis."

But when she went to stay with her parents after her accident, Janzen discovered that some of the very things that had been hard to take as a child brought her comfort as an adult. Homemade Mennonite foods for school lunches? The worst. No one would ever trade. But, as an adult, cooking and eating those foods brought Janzen comfort. The very fact that cooking was so ingrained in her being brought her a sense of pride. Homemade clothes in high school? Embarrassing. Being able to make your own clothes as an adult? Pretty damn handy.

Did I mention humor? Periodically this book reminded me of Jennie Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened, although certainly not as filled with the bizarre and with none of the cursing. Because Mennonites don't do that.
"The lunchbox that would have set my metaphoric pants on fire was Josie and the Pussycats. It is extremely unlikely that a Josie and the Pussycats lunchbox could have rescued me from the pit of unloosens into which I had already sunk, but at age eight I begged to differ. I figured that Josie and the Pussycats would magically make up for the knee-length homemade skirts or the blonde trials traded with neurotic precision, like Heidi on crack."
Janzen's extended visit brought her a sense of peace with her culture and an appreciation for her heritage. A heritage based on hard work, peaceful existence, and a love of their God above themselves. I doubt, though, that's she's taken to wearing one of the little hats you so often see on the women or her skirts to her mid-calf.

2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge
Woman Challenge #4
Read Books That Others Have Loaned Me

Yep, this one checked off a lot of the boxes!


  1. This one is definitely going on my TBR! I've seen it around but it never really grabbed me just based off the blurb but I loved this review and the excerpts you shared. It sounds funny and fascinating all at the same time. Great review!

    1. It wasn't as funny as I think I was expecting it to be but a lot more thoughtful.

  2. This book has been on my radar for years... it was even discussed as a possible book club selection at one point. It sounds like a book I'd enjoy!

    1. My mom had loaned it to me a long time ago - time to work through those loaned books!

  3. My mother's family has a lot of Mennonite ancestors so I was curious about this book. It is one of my favorites.

    1. It would be really interesting with that background!