Cecilia's Magical Mission
By Mary Eisenhart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Teen's religious quest has saints, Satan, Day of the Dead.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Lots of depth and detail on a particular tradition of Mexican Catholicism that's steeped in saints, spirituality, and a seamless connection between the living and the dead. Teens propose a science project about the progress of souls to heaven -- and their teacher OKs it. Books including the Harry Potter series and Harriet the Spy are important to the characters. Much detailed knowledge about preparing and serving coffee and hot chocolate in various traditions. Many adult characters disrespect school and academic achievement.
Strong messages of family, friendship, community, tradition, and spiritual connection. Fairly relentless anti-education message from adult family members, especially Cecilia's godmother who complains bitterly that Cecilia always insisted on studying, doing her homework, and going to school instead of using the time to receive spiritual wisdom. A character remarks that her parents have Ivy League degrees that don't seem to have made them happy.
Positive Role Models
Cecilia is a hardworking, serious teen who takes her studies seriously -- which seems to mean little to her adult family members who bemoan that she's becoming "Americanized" and insist she should take on lots of religious and cultural baggage for the sake of her community, ultimately casting it as a heroic quest. Her parents are hardworking, kind, supportive, and dedicated to sharing their particular gifts, especially with their neighbors in California and in Mexico. In the wake of losing their baby they deal with a lot of grief, and get a lot of community support. Many members of the community, who work low-status jobs for a living, are shown to have unsuspected gifts and powers. Her friends Julie and Lebda seem to exist mainly as foils who find Cecilia's culture far more fascinating than she does. Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, is presented as a kindly, helpful saint who used to like to put chipotle in his hot chocolate. St. Nicholas/Santa Claus is also an important force.
Violence & Scariness
The Sandy Hook school massacre occurs midway through the story, traumatizing characters, and is explained as the work of Satan. A character describes the horrific burn injuries of a neighbor, including the fact that she's burned down to the bone. In the past, a small child dies young affer performing miraculous feats, and protagonist Cecilia fears she'll be next. Much of the story is focused on the death and funeral rites of a stillborn baby, including family members holding and rocking the tiny body, as well as a ubiquitous videographer recording it all for public consumption on the internet. Death photographs of babies are cherished, and last words of dying people diligently recorded. An adult character is traumatized by a miscarriage earlier in life for which she was not allowed to grieve.
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Occasional "friggin'," "hell," "screw up." Cecilia's mom is angry when residents of a rich neihborhood call her an "illegal immigrant," which does not appear to be the case as the whole family travels on commercial flights to Mexico and back.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
When a kid comes home excited about the "magic" she's experienced at a church fair, her mother is concerned that she's had something strange to drink. The coffee brewed by an old woman -- using holy water -- not only tastes great, it has magical healing properties. Jesus turning water into wine is important to the story.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cecilia's Magic Mission, by award-winning author Viola Canales (The Tequila Worm), involves a 14-year-old Mexican American child of immigrant parents who lives in San Jose, California, works hard in school, and is getting all kinds of grief from religious family members about her upcoming confirmation in the Catholic church, mainly because she just wants to get it over with and get on with her life. Set in 2012, the story is steeped in saints (including Junipero Serra and Santa Claus), miracles, and death. The stillbirth of the title character's younger sister takes characters from California back to the family village in Mexico, and religious and cultural events are described (the belief that it takes nine days for a soul to reach heaven; the family taking turns cradling and rocking the dead baby at the funeral; there are photos of dead babies; trance-like recitations of the rosary; Day of the Dead celebrations and ghost stories). There's a strong message that finding your particular gift and putting it to work for others is more important than going to school, learning, and achieving, and relentless repetition that Cecilia should have spent less time working hard in school and more time getting in touch with her spiritual traditions.
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What's the Story?
CECILIA'S MAGICAL MISSION finds the 14-year-old title character living in a small apartment in San Jose, California, with her hardworking, loving parents, who have strong roots in their hometown of Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Bay Area-born Cecilia's worried about keeping up in her last year of middle school. Her family, and especially her godmother, Carmen, are giving her grief about her upcoming confirmation in the Catholic church, which they care about a lot more than she does. It's bad that she hasn't picked a confirmation saint, let alone established a relationship with one, because how else will she discover her don, the unique gift she's supposed to nurture and share with her community? When her eagerly awaited baby sister is stillborn, Cecilia is caught up in the community's observances of grief and support, starts to see things from a new perspective -- and finds she's been chosen to combat a curse that afflicts Santa Cecilia. Soon her friends Julie and Lebda, as well as an array of saints from Santa Claus to Junipero Serra, are involved in the quest.
Is It Any Good?
A Mexican American teen caught between her immigrant parents’ world and her own comes to terms with saints, family, mysticism, death, and Satan in a tale of religious tradition. As the story unfolds, Cecilia’s Magical Mission takes her to situations that some readers will find relatable, others bewildering, and still others enthralling. As Cecilia's friend Julie gushes, "This is the most exciting stuff I've ever experienced. It's like stumbling into Harry Potter's world and discovering it's for real."
Here, Cecilia's godmother explains a few ground rules.
"'Okay,' Carmen said. She sat up straight. 'Let me begin with explaining the steps. The Holy Spirit enters a person's soul at baptism, like a seed -- the first step. It sprouted when you made your First Communion. At Confirmation--the next step--it starts to grow so your don can bear fruit.'
"Carmen took in Julie's baffled expression and added, "What's the Holy Spirit? The divine in a person, her highest self, the seed that contains her sacred talent or don. And why is Confirmation important? Because it kick-starts a person's quest, her journey to discover, grow, and ultimately fruit her don. Not just for herself, but to share with her family, her community, the entire world.'
"Julie was transfixed, while Cecilia slumped in her chair and wondered if this was just Mexican superstition or a big, fat story that had been told so many times over so many years that it had morphed into a myth."
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how Cecilia's Magical Mission shows the challenges some U.S.-born children of immigrant parents face. What pressures do they experience from different cultures? How does living in multiple worlds enrich their lives? What did you learn about Cecilia's family, community, and culture?
This story is set on 2012. What might be different if it took place now?
Where did your ancestors come from? Have you ever wanted to go back there to live?
- Author: Viola Canales
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Middle School
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Piñata Books
- Publication date: October 31, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 13 - 17
- Number of pages: 344
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: August 15, 2021
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