Book Review: Born to Return the Gift

Author:  Catherine E. Johnson

Onyz Productions, 2009

356 pages/ Fiction

3-1/2 out of 5 stars

When I read the first page of Born to Return the Gift, which includes both a sincere acknowledgement to God with a list of twenty scripture references and a “Respectful Warning,” I knew I was in for an interesting literary outing. The warning goes on to state, “This novel deals with adult issues. Explicit sexual content and profane language keep it real.” Ah, yeah, no kidding. While not full of sexual content, the book has some sections that rival Penthouse Forum material. That alone isn’t odd, but the intermingling of those two very divergent topics—explicit sex and God—you don’t often find in the “Religion” section of the bookstore. I loved the honesty and visceral nature of the book.  Keep it real, indeed.

The book chronicles the adult life of hard-luck, fictional Nyima Chante Robbins, an African American woman in her fifties living a series of failed attempts to secure a somewhat normal lifestyle in a world of dysfunction—including her own. She journeys to California where she hopes to find normalcy in the areas of life many of us take for granted: keeping and securing long-lasting and meaningful employment, long-lasting and meaningful friendships, and long-lasting and meaningful love relationships. Her failure rate for these three areas of her life is heartbreaking, but the story of her quest is usually very engaging and interesting. As the reader watching her struggles, you see where Nyima goes wrong time after time, and the temptation is to confront the dysfunction and shout, “Stop!” However, that temptation lessens when you know to do so would unfairly judge Nyima—and anyone else in that situation. Moreover, isn’t that part of the problem? People like Nyima are judged as failures or losers by those unfamiliar with her world.

The author, Catherine E. Johnson, tells Nyima’s story through a number of flashbacks during the last two weeks of her failed experiment of living in California looking for a new life. Unfortunately, the author waits toward the end of the book to divulge the character’s early life, as well as Nyima’s bizarre spiritual experience of being trapped in a hell-like world. (What was that? Was it hell?) Disappointingly, the author does little to explain the experience fully. I would have loved to see the book intersperse these more interesting elements throughout the story to create better pacing and increase interest in the plot. Waiting for the last 45 pages of a 345-page book to reveal so much is so unfair to the reader.

There are too many basic grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and word choice errors in the book to mention here, and they often distract from the content. Sadly, this number of errors only helps to solidify that this is a self-published book—those regrettable errors that create the reputation that the self-publishing world is still in need of polish, finesse and the experienced eye of an editor.  It’s a shame that this kind of final product sidetracks us from the skills and creativity of an author.    

Overall, it’s a promising, inspiring and uplifting book by a very promising author. Johnson has potential to be a gifted writer but needs to work on a few basic things—namely, finding a decent editor— before we can take her seriously as a published author.

Reviewed by David Stucki (Electric Eclectic)

Born to Return the Gift is available on amazon . You can check out the author’s website here.

You may also read this and other book reviews on Mark McGinty’s blog, The Boogle.

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Born to Return the Gift

  1. Catherine says:

    It would have been nice had you added your comments about having “an overly perfectionistic approach to reading.(Many of the errors were minor, but they did distract me – like even the smallest of pebbles in a shoe.)” – your words, not mine.

    Anyway, I hope you don’t mind that I took the opportunity on myself to do so.
    Thanks again for your honest opinion.

    • eclecticpills says:

      Here’s a comment I left on The Boogle blog following the posting of my review of Catherine E. Johnson’s book, Born to Return the Gift. See all the comments posted for this review on The Boogle –

      The reviewer has finally entered the room after the rest of the family has fought it out. By now, most of you have probably moved on to new posts and new discussions taking your bloodied noses with you. Even so, you have to love this discussion, don’t you? This debate, if you want to call it that, has created some wonderful dialogue about the self-publishing culture and the expectations that surround it. I pray not so at the expense of the author, Catherine, however.

      A note to the author: Catherine, I apologize that I don’t have a list of the errors I mentioned in my review, and, unfortunately, I won’t be spending more time skimming your book finding them again. However, you’ll be happy to know that this has taught me a valuable lesson: I’ll keep track of errors in the future in order to give self-published authors the constructive criticism they deserve. Additionally, I want to emphasize that you truly created an interesting and engaging story regardless of this reviewer’s overly perfectionistic approach to reading. (Many of the errors were minor, but they did distract me—like even the smallest of pebbles in a shoe.) My career has included time as a proofreader and editor, so woe to writers whose book may come under the scrutiny of my red pen! This is not a power trip. To be clear, I NEVER proofread or edit merely to find fault but to find ways to elevate the writer’s craft. I truly hope that this experience—and a difficult one it has been, I’m sure—will help you bring your writing to the next level. God bless you and your work!

      David Stucki

  2. Kyle D. Bennett says:

    Don’t be a Tyrant; It’s a Bad Idea

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