The Secret of the Moon Conch
David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall
Published June 6, 2023
About The Secret of the Moon Conch
Award-winning authors David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall join forces to craft a sweeping fantasy romance about falling in love despite all odds.
In modern-day Mexico, Sitlali has no family left and has caught the attention of a dangerous gang leader. She has no choice but to make the perilous trip to the US border and track down her long-absent father. The night before her journey, she finds a beautiful conch shell detailed with ancient markings.
In 1521, Calizto is an Aztec young warrior in Tenochtitlan, fighting desperately to save his city from Spanish imperialists. With his family dead and the horrors of war surrounding him, Calizto asks a sacred moon conch for guidance.
Connected by the magical conch, Sitlali and Calizto can communicate across centuries, finding comfort in each other as they fight to survive. With each conversation, they fall deeper in love, but will they be able to find a way to each other?
I loved the romance in this story and the connection forged between Sitlali and Calizto. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Mexican history, so a lot of the details about Calizto’s timeline were unfamiliar to me. I knew the broad strokes of colonialism, but it was cool to get to see some (fictionalized) snapshots from history and think about how those moments affected the ordinary people living them.
The story shows firsthand the dangers that Sitlali faces, especially those which prompt her to flee her home in Mexico to the United States, where her only surviving relatives, her father, and godmother, live. It also paints a stark, terrible picture of what life in the US is like for the undocumented: few opportunities, wages below legal limits, and constant fear of discovery and deportation, all without any legal protection. We also encounter scenes of prisoners kept in inhumane conditions in ICE custody.
Pairing sixteenth-century Mexican history from the perspective of indigenous people with the experiences of a young undocumented immigrant to the United States was a powerful choice. I feel like I’m still processing some of my thoughts about it.
Above all, though, THE SECRET OF THE MOON CONCH is a spiritual story. It’s about the connection between two people whose love and humanity transcend time. It’s about their journey of discovering the power they have through the conch shell and through their love for one another and their people. And it’s about how to use that power to help others, even when they know some moments of history are already decided.
All in all, this was a truly unexpected story. I tend to really like faith-positive stories because I believe faith can be a positive, powerful part of our lives. So I enjoyed the ways in which both Sitlali and Calizto’s faith guided them and helped them along their paths. I think readers who enjoyed SKY BREAKER by Addie Thorley will enjoy this one.
Recommended for Ages 16 up.
Both Sitlali and Calizto are Mexican. She lives in 2019, and he lives in 1521.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.
A gang member pursues Sitlali, determined to possess her. In one scene, he grabs her and forces a kiss on her. Later, consensual kissing between a boy and a girl. In one scene, he puts his hand under her shirt, and she stops the interaction from going further, fearing they’re moving too fast. She asks for privacy from him when changing or bathing and offers him the same.
In one scene, a married couple undress in front of one another, and the scene ends as we assume they consummate their love.
Sitlali and Calizto are connected by a conch shell that belonged to the Moon Goddess. As the phases of the moon progress toward a full moon, their connection to one another increases. They discuss the faith and spirituality of their people and how it has changed over the past 500 years. Sitlali prays to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Calizto prays to the Moon Goddess, whom his mother served.
Sitlali sees and interacts with the ghosts of her grandmother and her mother, as well as other ancestors.
Situations of peril. Gang members surround Sitlali, and one tries to force her to agree to marry him. A coyote attacks a young woman. A man shoots another man. A young woman stabs someone and shoots them. Calizto fights in many battles. Several scenes describe combat and gruesome injuries.
Some scenes show inhumane conditions inside an ICE detention center. A mother begs for medical care for her young child. Guards perform an illegal body cavity search on a prisoner kept in isolation.
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