Review: Kelli M. Donley's Under The Same Moon

under-same-moon-140Under the Same Moon
by Kelli M. Donley (Cameroon 2000)
Donley Books
356 pages
May 2010

Reviewed by Terry Sack (Bolivia 1963–65; PC/DC 1968–69)

KELLI DONLEY’S NOVEL Under the Same Moon is the story of a young girl from Mozambique who, against her will, is brought to America. The book has a unique and attractive cover. Unfortunately, things go down-hill from there. The first and most obvious flaw is evident on page one: the layout. There is no spacing between paragraphs. This, combined with frequently awkward transitions from one paragraph to the next, makes reading of the text difficult. Another distracting layout issue is having the identifying content — name, book title and page number on the bottom of the page.

While layout issues are significant, by far the major problem with the book is that it begs for serious professional editing. For example, on page one, paragraph 3: “Guilt was a feeling she’d long since abandoned. When fighting for survival, more than the basic set of emotions — hunger, anger, thirst, exhaustion, satisfaction — were luxuries she couldn’t afford.”  Huh?  I would not classify “hunger,” “thirst” or “exhaustion” as being emotions. Still on page one, she writes about another character’s emotions: “When the bitter guilt of buying a child bubbled in the back of his throat for a moment, he swallowed and forced a smile.” I have a very hard time imagining guilt bubbling in the back of a person’s throat. At the same time the back cover of the book describes the situation as a kidnapping. Was the main character kidnapped or sold into a kind of slavery by her mother? This kind of imprecision with both the English language and the storyline is rampant throughout the book.

Here are a few more examples of awkward phrasing and confusing sentence composition:

“Look child,” Lawa said, looking at the floor, “I realize that you are misplaced, but you’ll find your stance again.”

“Well, don’t just stand there,” Cynthia said, squeezing the bridge of her nose. “Get up and bathe already.”

They clutched to their privacy and way of life now, even more than the Reagan years.

The pages flew out of her fingers as she typed freely.

She was consumed with possibility.

The absence of editing is even more blatantly evidenced by numerous misspelled words, typos, and confusion in the use of present and past tense in the same sentence or paragraph. To add to the mix, several of the Spanish words used in the story are either incorrectly written or slang expressions that are not identified as such. The Language Reference at the back of the book translates “mija” as “my daughter.”  Correct Spanish would be “mi hija.”  “Bueys” are oxen not “guys.”  The correct spelling is “grosera” not “grocera.”

Attention to the layout and proper editing may not be the exciting parts of the publishing process but they are indispensable.  In the process of writing and publishing my book, I had two friends do the initial editing, followed by two rounds of professional editing.

This is not to say that Ms. Donely does not have some nice descriptions and interesting scenes in her book. There may indeed be the basis for a decent novel in her writing, but the lack of editing and the disjointed storyline make that an unanswerable question. I read about half of the book (181 pages) before giving up in total frustration. My final thought was to be amazed that anyone would send out a book for review with so many obvious shortcomings.

To order Under the Same Moon from Amazon, click on the book cover or the bold book title — and Peace Corps Worldwide, an Amazon Associate, will receive a small remittance that helps support our awards.

Reviewer Terry Sack (Bolivia 1963–65 & PC/DC 1968–69) is the author of the recently published A Peace Corps Memoir: Answering JFK’s Call. He is a retired professor emeritus who has published numerous journal articles, and has served on the Editorial Boards of several major professional journals.


Leave a comment
  • As a writer and designer, I agree that layout and presentation are important tools for smooth digestion of a book. And editing—however painful for the writer—is a good and essential thing.

    However, I disagree with your guilt-bubbling assessment. It’s a vivid description of an creeping emotion that has physical properties. The concept of swallowing vile bubbles of guilt makes my stomach churn—which I’d guess is precisely what Ms. Donely wanted to convey.

    And isn’t the official language of Mozambique Portuguese and not Spanish? Perhaps that accounts for the difference in your translation. Granted, I do not (unfortunately) speak either language so I can’t provide more clarity.

  • I believe that you are correct about Portuguese being used in Mozambique but the author, in addition to using some Portuguese words, also used a lot of Spanish as she placed her main character in Arizona with a Mexican nanny. So my critique of her Spanish is correct.

  • As someone who has worked in Mozambique I can confirm that Portuguese is the official language and spoken by all educated people. There are languages that are also spoken by those who have and have not gone to school. I also speak Spanish and can confirm that the two languages are very similar with some notable differences. Once you master those differences you can speak either language.

  • Terry,
    While I wish you’d continued reading, I’m appreciative for the review you were able to provide. It’s a debut novel and I have much to learn. The next, without doubt, will be stronger. (And a professional editor will be included in the process.)
    Thanks for taking the time to read what you did!

    Kind regards,

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