Secret of the Moon Conch | David Bowles & Guadalupe García McCall


Secret of the Moon Conch by David Bowles & Guadalupe García McCall

Out Now from Bloomsbury YA; 464 pages

Content Warning: Graphic violence, death, sexual content, ICE detention, assault, gang activity, gun violence

About the Authors: “David Bowles is a Mexican American author and translator from south Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley. He has written over three dozen award-winning titles, most notably They Call Me Güero and My Two Border Towns. His work has also been published in multiple anthologies, plus venues such as The New York Times, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, School Library Journal, Rattle, Translation Review, and the Journal of Children’s Literature. Additionally, David has worked on several TV/film projects, including Victor and Valentino (Cartoon Network), the Moctezuma & Cortés miniseries (Amazon/Amblin) and Monsters and Mysteries in America (Discovery). In 2017, David was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. He now serves as its vice president. In 2019, he co-founded the hashtag and activist movement #DignidadLiteraria, which has negotiated greater Latinx representation in publishing. In 2021, he helped launch Chispa, the Latinx imprint of Scout Comics, for which he serves as co-publisher” (Bio from author’s website). 

Find David Bowles on the following platforms:

“Born and raised in Eagle Pass, Texas, Guadalupe García McCall is the award-winning author of several young adult novels, some short stories for adults, and many children’s poems. Guadalupe has received the prestigious Pura Belpre Award, a Westchester Young Adult Fiction Award, the Tomás Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award, and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Award and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, among many other accolades. She is an advocate for literacy, diverse books, and Own Voices. In her travels, she is always looking for a good taco place and she never met a chocolate mole sauce she didn’t love! She lives in the San Antonio area with her husband and sons. She likes to cook, garden, write, draw, and play with her granddaughter” (Bio from author’s Antioch University faculty profile). 

Find Guadalupe García McCall on the following platforms:

“No matter what the new moon may bring, you will always be a part of me.”

Both Sitlali and Calizto have one mission: survival. However, their circumstances could not be more different. Seventeen-year-old Sitlali must escape the perils of modern-day Zongolica, a Mexican municipality overrun by gang violence and drug lords. Calizto, also seventeen, lives in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan circa 1521 and must defend his home from the vicious attacks of Spanish colonizers. Though the two are centuries apart, they are brought together by a magical conch shell, which allows them to communicate. As Sitlali and Calizto support and guide each other through their respective battles, their connection grows. They fight for their lives and freedom, desperate to find safety in worlds where danger lurks at every turn. As they discover comfort and happiness in each other, they begin to wonder why the conch shell unites them and if they may share a future together. 

Secret of the Moon Conch was unique and impeccably well-researched, allowing the authors to immerse readers in unfamiliar worlds. Sitlali’s chapters displayed emotional depth and were easily understandable for a contemporary audience. The prose is beautifully written, featuring vivid imagery. Conversely, I found Calizto’s chapters difficult to keep up with. I appreciated the integration of authentic vocabulary, but I wish definitions were included in the text or made more apparent through context clues. I constantly flipped back and forth between the text and the glossary, which took me out of the story. I was also shocked by the graphic violence featured in his chapters, which felt slightly excessive for young adults. Secret of the Moon Conch shines the brightest when the conch shell allows the two characters to read each other’s minds and see through each other’s eyes. The parallels between Calizto’s and Sitlali’s experiences are thoughtful and well-planned. Though their situations are distinctly different, their plots move at the same pace. However, the protagonists understand the elaborate powers of the conch shell easily, which felt unrealistic and made it difficult to follow along as a reader. Because their situations are so complex, the solutions seem oversimplified. The romance in this novel also felt oversimplified. Despite the hurried nature of the relationship, the intimate scenes are appropriate for seventeen-year-olds, from discussing consent to avoiding overt explicitness. 

In a world full of trope-based young adult novels, David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall gave readers a book like none other. 

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change before final publication.)

PRR Assistant Director, Ashley Amacher