Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Hating her mother's humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it's the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.
PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS has all the trademark signatures of the Rick Riordan Presents line: mysterious parentage, folklore, humor, and action. What I love about this line is that even with several common staples, every book is completely unique and has its own style. Author Tehlor Kay Mejia has a distinct, sharp voice that fits Paola perfectly, and the tale of La Llorona is only the beginning of this rich world.
My hands down favorite part of this novel is Paola herself. She’s beautifully flawed in a way that middle grade girls are rarely given the space to be. Paola is jealous, petty, angry, and has a razor sharp tongue. She’s also loyal, brave, witty, and passionate about science. We see her begin the hard journey of accepting all parts of yourself and finding a balance amongst them. I love her interactions with her mom and Dante especially as they navigate new and unfamiliar spaces. Mejia incorporates themes of family conflict, friendship, first crushes, injustice, and more.
Unfortunately, the plot and pace didn’t work as well for me. The beginning started off moving at a steady pace, but goes down several notches for the majority of the middle. It picks up again at the end with an epic confrontation scene, but it was a slow journey to get there. Similarity, the middle introduced multiple confusing plot lines, and I had to reread many chapters multiple times to figure out what was going on.
Overall, if you’re looking for a middle grade book with daring adventure, strong characterization, layered world building, and themes of family and friendship, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS is a solid choice.