Book Review: "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress" by Rhoda Janzen

A hilarious and moving memoir in the spirit of Anne Lamott and Nora Ephron about a woman who returns home to her Mennonite family after a personal crisis.

The same week her husband of 15 years ditches her for a guy he met on, a partially inebriated teenage driver smacks her VW Beetle head-on. Marriage over, body bruised, life upside-down, Rhoda does what any sensible 43-year-old would do: She goes home.

But hers is not just any home. It's a Mennonite home, the scene of her painfully uncool childhood and the bosom of her family: handsome but grouchy Dad, plain but cheerful Mom. Drinking, smoking, and slumber parties are nixed; potlucks, prune soup, and public prayer are embraced. Having long ago left the faith behind, Rhoda is surprised when the conservative community welcomes her back with open arms...and offbeat advice. She discovers that this safe, sheltered world is the perfect place to come to terms with her failed marriage and the choices that both freed and entrapped her.

I've been on a memoir kick lately. I don't really read them that much because I'm really picky about my memoirs. It all comes down to the style of writing of the author. I have tended to notice that I like reading memoirs of non famous people more so than well known folks. I also tend to like the ones that write in a chick lit-ish style which is much more entertaining to me and keeps me hooked to the pages.

I really enjoyed reading this book. As you know, I'm a fan of Amish fiction. However, even though I like the genre sometimes I feel as it it's been sugar coated for the market. That's primarily what interested me about this book, the fact that it's from a different point of view that's not from the Christian market. I liked hearing about Rhoda's background and where her roots originally came from. The stories about her parents were quite interesting to me and were actually my favorite parts of the book. I knew that Mennonites are not as strict as the Amish yet it was still a bit of a surprise to read about how modern her family was. It's obvious that the author does not want to return to that style of life yet at the same time she knows she can't forget where she came from.

I did find some of the parts about the author's marriage to be a bit boring and repetitive. I just wasn't a fan of reading about how her husband has apparently always been bi and she just now realized it. Still the rest of the book is really interesting. I loved the Mennonite primer at the end of the book. It's extremely informative and just a lot of fun to read. There is some cursing in the book and talk about sex for those who would be concerned. However they are not really an issue that takes away from the story. I would totally recommend this book for those who enjoy memoirs and especially for those who like Amish fiction but want to read a different side to the story. It's funny, entertaining and highly informative and makes for a great read.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen is published by Henry Holt and Co. (2009)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. I just finished this one, and it made me laugh. I think the Mennonite primer really should have been at the beginning of the book because I knew next to nothing about Mennonites going in.

  2. The name alone intrigued me on this, and now I know: I really must read it.

  3. I love memoirs from everyday people and I'm really anxious to read this. I think I'll read the primer first!

  4. I love memoirs from "normal" people, too! They're way more interesting to me than celebs, who probably have their "tell-alls" ghost written, anyway. Bleh. This one sounds great -- I know nothing about Mennonite culture but am definitely open to learning about it!

  5. I read an article by this women in Good Housekeeping or something like that...It intrigued me, considering I believe pretty much like a mennonite, except I watch TV = )
    Well, there are a few other differences too....but still, mennonites are probably fairly more "normal" than you think!

  6. I picked this book for my book club and we are discussing it tonight! I enjoyed the history of the mennonite culture.


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