Cover Image: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This is a wonderful book, an exploration of mythology and culture wrapped up in a compelling adventure, interesting family dynamics, and fully realized characters. And I think this book will go so far, acting as a mirror for kids whose cultures are represented as well as a way into understanding a bit of these cultures for those who are outside. 

Highly recommended for the middle grade classroom or home library, as well as for adults like me who think stories about mythology are fun.
Was this review helpful?
Note: This is my first Rick Riordan Presents book and I am not an own voices reviewer.

This story about the very scientific minded Paola Santiago who's goes on a very mystical, fantastical adventure to save her friend. There was a lot of this I liked. I liked how the experience of Paola as a second generation American with her mom was depicted. I liked the scientific mind of Paola and her friendships with Dante and Emma. I liked how the reveal of the villain and Ondina played out. I liked how real social issues were weaved into the story.

I enjoyed the story in the real world until it brought in the fantastical world and I felt like it got a lot weaker. It was introduced very flimsily, without giving Paola and Dante any direction. There was a lot of loose threads that was introduced and not explained AT ALL. Paola as the Dreamer, The Alma de Arma, the pearl of power. I understand that it's a series, but some things CAN be explained in order to build a series. And the themes, instead of being nuanced, were more like hitting you with a ton of bricks. (and middle grade can be nuanced. Rick already does that). Even though Paola and her friends were supposed to be 12, I really felt like it read older than that at times. This is also a little darker for a middle grade book, which middle grade can be dark at times, but a darker start for a first book.

I love the book for exploring Mexican and Latinx mythology here, but I felt it didn't introduce it well enough for me to understand the world and want to read more of it.

This was an ARC via NetGalley for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
When you’re a scientist, the world looks neat, organized, and crystal clear. When your mother believes in spirits and magic, however, your world can feel upside down. This contradiction is at the heart of Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, the new middle grade fantasy novel from Tehlor Kay Meija. I found this book to be a great, fun, adventurous read, and not just because my 12 year old shouted NO SPOILERS every time she saw me with my Kindle for four days. As a mom, that’s a pretty cool moment; I’ve made sure she meets actors from her favorite TV show, gotten responses to her questions from authors on Twitter, and she’s been happy-but-blase the way 12 year olds are. Seeing me with an eARC of a new book, though, put her over the edge. And, since this is a conversation I’ve seen on Twitter a few times: she’s absolutely excited that this is a new book “recommended by Rick Riordan,” but she is also fully aware that he is not the author, and that excites her even more.  

“Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It's all they've heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.

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.”

Late in the book, someone mentions that Paola Santiago, Pao, is inhabiting a liminal space. I was happy to see this put into words because at its heart, Paola Santiago is about liminal spaces. It is about the shady dusk that happens when you’re not quite in either world. From her frustration with her mother to the world on the other side of the rift, Pao is trying to understand how to inhabit two spaces at once. There’s a lot happening in this book related to this theme - the tension between friends, the tension between religion and superstition and scientific thought, and the tension between the desire to save everyone and the need to save your friend, the tension between what Marissa and Ondina are telling Pao, and how that contradicts Pao’s dreams about Emma. This is a part of growing up that isn’t often discussed in books aimed at 12 year olds: the idea of holding two contradictory ideas within yourself, especially the idea of both growing up and staying a kid. 

The book’s action kicks off when Paolo's best friend Emma goes missing. Pao and Dante, her other best friend, try to go to the police, but are dismissed because Pao is presumed to be one of those <<quote>>. It is Dante’s abuela who sends them on their quest to rescue Emma, using magic to send them across the rift and equipping them with Florida water, a kid’s toy flashlight, and a chancla (an old house slipper). The duo are thrust into another world where they find a whole community of other kids who are struggling for survive after their own disappearances into the rift. While Dante stays to help them fight the monsters, Pao continues her journey, never accepting others’ belief that Emma might be dead. 

Throughout this, Meija creates a vibrant, textured world that feels rich and real. From the weight of the humidity to the odd feeling of petting a chupacabra puppy, this book creates a sensory experience that is immersive and enjoyable. 

If this book has a fault, it is that the ending seemed rushed and unclear. While the struggle between La Llorona and Ondina was powerful and important, how La Llorona had been turned into this angry spirit was difficult to follow. When did Franco stab her? How were the children being brought across the rift before that? But, as an adult reader, I have a different perspective and look for different things in stories than my twelve year old daughter. She, for example, will never tolerate a story where enemies become friends while seeing that transition is one of my favorite tropes. 

This is an ownvoices book, as all of the Rick Riordan Presents titles are; it embraces the author’s own mythology and explores worlds that kids of the same culture probably haven’t seen in print before. My experience with publishers is that no matter how good a book might be, publishing houses are likely to tell an author "We already published a Latino (queer/trans/Chinese/Black, insert your chosen minority here) book this year," so an imprint dedicated to making sure that people who traditional publishers would dismiss are instead pushed and bolstered by name recognition alone. 

An impartial reader doesn't exist, and biases are present in every human being. This isn't a flaw, but failing to acknowledge those biases is. As someone with nothing but western Europe in my family heritage, I don't have the background that the target demographic likely would. I am comfortable saying that it felt like the author’s experiences were woven into the warp and weft of this story, from the connections of religion and magic to the fear of being taken away by ICE. When Emma’s parents ask Dante and Pao to meet them at the police station, Pao is terrified; she has been taught throughout her life to never go to the police if there is any other choice at all. Beyond the experience of real world racism, however, the experience of magic and fantasy is different and powerful. As a white reader, for example, having the character’s magic item for the quest being a house slipper which has clearly inspired fear in both Dante and Pao for many years, brings a fresh take on the “hero’s quest.” 

This isn’t Taylor Kay Mejia’s first book, though it is the first one she’s written for a middle grade audience. I appreciate that this is an author my daughter can grow with. We already have We Set the Dark On Fire on our shelves, though she hasn’t quite gotten to it yet. 

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a good adventure story. It examines the concepts of liminal spaces in a way that I think middle schoolers will find approachable and interesting. It is girls, ultimately, who save the day, and when Pao returns from the rift, it is with a new perspective on her mom’s beliefs about the world. I strongly recommend it for kids who enjoy adventure and fantasy, stories where girls are the heroes, and moments where monsters aren’t as simple as they seem. Although it’s middle grade, and therefore considered appropriate for 8-12 year olds, I would read along with my 8 year old to make sure she understood the way poverty and single parents were presented in this book.

And now that I've written this review, I can finally, finally have my daughter stop worrying she'll read a stray paragraph over my shoulder and ruin a book I think she'll gush about for weeks.
Was this review helpful?
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is another book in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint.  I really enjoyed it.  I love how these books give life to various cultures and their folklore/mythology.  Paola Santiago is no exception.  In this book, Paola gets to experience the world of La Llorona, the Hispanic legend of a woman who killed her own children by drowning them, and then proceeded to take other children and drown them as well.  Paola is a 12 year old girl who is very much science minded, and is able to explain various experiences by using science.  That is, until she gets swept away in the legend herself.

If you are a fan of Percy Jackson, Aru Shah, and any other of the Rick Riordan Presents books, I think you will definitely enjoy this book as well!

I received a digital ARC of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley.
Was this review helpful?
I inhaled this book, staying up late to finish (which I haven't done in a long time). My students know the story of La Llorona and many are familiar with creatures like the chupacabra. I'm so excited to share this very well-written book that features many of the stories they have grown up with. I think the cover alone will suck them in, so I imagine I'll have to buy a couple of copies (whenever we get back to normal). I agree with other reviewers that the story did drag a bit here and there, but for the most part the action was exciting, the mystery was compelling, and the relationship developments felt very true-to-life. I look forward to the next installment.
Was this review helpful?
I knew going into this one that I would probably love it for two big reasons.
1. I love the author. Mejia's YA duology WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE and WE UNLEASH THE MERCILESS STORM were stunning. I never expected to fall in love with them the way I did, but I did. And they were amazing. So I knew I'd love just about anything the author put out. And
2. Rick Riordan Presents has yet to put out a less than phenomenal book. Everything I've read out of this imprint has been a 4 star and above read for me. 
Well, I was right. I loved it. And those two reasons were only part of it. The entire book was an adventure from start to finish. I love the characters, the plot, the writing, all of it. Cannot recommend this enough for all middle grade readers.
Was this review helpful?
This was a really great middle grade story weaving together Latinx myths with a smart young girl trying to find her missing best friend. This was a great story and I really loved the characters and how Paola began to believe in the myths and legends her mother told, the ones she had written off as being ridiculous.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free review copy!

Many of the books in my classroom library were inherited from previous teachers. While there were plenty of great books, they aren't representative of many of my students' cultures. Even fewer are Own Voices. So when I learned about this new series from Rick Riordan Presents while listening to the Novel Pairings podcast (highly recommend!), I knew I wanted to look into it. 

This first book in the Paola Santiago series didn't disappoint! It's magical, fairly creepy, and had all those hallmarks of a young teen fantasy series--coming of age, heroic journey, deep friendships. I could see it being a good book for teaching theme or incorporating into a text set of mythological retellings. I definitely plan to purchase a copy for my classroom library!
Was this review helpful?
STEAM, creep factor, and #OWNVOICES middle grade? Yes please! My middle school patrons will absolutely eat this title up!
Thanks to the Publisher and Netgalley for the Advanced Reader Copy.
Was this review helpful?
Meet 12-year-old Paola "Pao" Santiago, a lover of anything space-related, non-believer of superstititions, and can't stray from the Gila River. Her two best friends, Emma and Dante, meet her at the edge of the river often because it's the perfect spot to use her telescope to see the stars. Even though this is the perfect spot, they still remember the tragic event that happened in this same spot. A schoolmate, Marisa, drowned in the river and the town believes that the river is beyond dangerous. Since Pao's mom is extremely superstitious, she has told Pao numerous times about all of the terribly legends that surround the river banks. La Llorona is a ghost who screams and cries, looking for another victim to pull into the river to never be seen again. Of course the trio plans to meet again in the same spot, but Emma never shows. Emma' parents are frantic and Pao and Dante know they need to somehow, someway find their best friend. Dante's grandmother is in the middle of this when the two are trying to leave to figure out where she is, but instead of a quick visit his grandmother turns otherworldly and gives them a bag, Pao's old flashlight covered in stickers, and her chancla (slipper). As they free themselves they end up in the cactus field's near the Gila River... From here on out, Pao and Dante expect the unexpected because they run into chupacabras, massive creatures, green goop, a group of lost souls, and so much more. It is going to be a far more tedious journey than they thought. Finding Emma will lead them into chaos, destruction, and pain.

This fantasy novel was so "on-edge" with all of the superstitions coming to life and the "journey" that Pao and Dante go on to try to find Emma. I loved the characters and I think Rick Riordan readers will thouroughly enjoy this one, too. Since this was my first Riordan read, I was not prepared for the length of the story. I think about 3/4th's of the way through I felt like the story dragged on. There were scenes in the cactus field that I felt like could have been cut out, but again, I am not familiar with this kind of series. However, I know my fantasy lovers who do enjoy books like this will want more and more!
Was this review helpful?
Paola Santiago is a science loving girl who lives near the Arizona desert with her Mom. She loves her Mom but not her Mom's superstitious beliefs. The most common one is her Mom's belief in La Llorona, the wailing woman who will pull kids into the Gila River. While Paola and her two best friends Emma and Dante are mostly rule followers, the banks of the Gila are the best place to stargaze with Emma's telescope, so they meet there often. When Emma does not show up at their meeting time one night, Paola and Dante must investigate. They are pulled into a world that has too much in common with the stories of Paolo's mother.

Dante and Paola have to work together and dig deeper to find Emma and save the day. This is complicated by systemic racism of local police, a lack of understanding of the world her mother explained to her, and the fact that they have a little bit of a crush on each other.

This story has action and humour. I enjoyed the way that Paola's flaws and even her strengths can get in her way and how she has to learn and adapt to overcome these and other challenges. I have heard it said that visible minorities have to learn to live in multiple different worlds in order to thrive, and it seems the author knows this and is having her characters learn this, both in the sense of living as a POC and also in the fantasy book sense of adapting to monsters and magic.
Was this review helpful?
Of all the Rick Riordan Presents titles, this one is by far the best so far! Pao is a terrific character that a lot of kids will identify with. I especially appreciated the female STEM representation! The way the author weaved this characters love of science throughout the story was very well done. It was very clear from the character's thoughts and way of processing she was passionate about science. Love to see it!

The relationship between Pao and Dante was realistic and I think middle school readers will very much relate to the dynamics between them. The author did a great job of showing how relationships between friends can begin to change around age 12.

The plot follows a typical Hero's Journal formula, but it's so well written that I didn't mind :) Excellent read! Definitely purchased a copy for our school library!
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed this story! It’s refreshing to see more American folklore from different cultures being brought into Riordan Presents. Mejia does a wonderful job painting clear visuals throughout this book. And to me it felt like a fantasy and horror hybrid. The detached hands, La Llorona, gaping mouth like portals, etc. were definitely creepy. I really liked the character of Pao. I will definitely read the sequel.
Was this review helpful?
Thank-you to NetGalley and Disney Book Group for an e-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

The creative cover art of Paola Santiago and the River of Tears grabbed my attention immediately. Once I was introduced to Paola, a no nonsense kid who’s belief system is rooted in Science, I was hooked. 

Paola hypothesizes, conducts experiments and places rational and logical explanations as to why things happen. Accompanied by her two supportive friends, who love all of her quirks, Dante and Emma, this friendship trio are very engaging as they navigate through growing up. Paola’s scientific mind clashes her mother, who relies on tinctures, tarot cards, candles and stories as solutions to their problems.

Telhlor Kay Mejia has masterfully incorporated all the classic elements of a heroines journey. There is encouraging character development through the complexities of being 12 and how friendships can change, first crushes, learning to look at oneself, and learning that not all things can be explained! 

Mejia’s introduction to the cultural beliefs and folklore of Mexican and Mexican American mythology is engaging. The tales of Chupacabra and La Llorona are a fresh and beyond entrancing look at these classic tales. 

I would defiantly recommend this book and cannot wait for more adventures with Paola!
Was this review helpful?
If you have read Stephen King's OUTSIDER then you know all about some of the scary monsters of Mexican legend and this story features one of them.  La Llorona comes from the dark waters of the river to steal children and drag them down to replace the children she lost.  Even though they laugh at the superstition, Paola and her friends steer clear of the river usually but it is the best place to go star gazing.  When one of the friends goes missing Paola and Dante fear that she has been taken by La Llorona and set off to get her back.  As with all of the Rick Riordan Presents books, there is a fair amount of danger, a lot of fast paced adventure and a country's legends and myths brought to life.  The heroes begin as ordinary yet are able to use their wits to defeat pretty scary monsters and do the right thing.  Paola is a strong determined young woman who is kind, loyal to her friends and doesn't always see eye to eye with her hardworking single parent mom.  This story will appeal to both adventure seeking boys and girls and is a great addition to the popular Rick Riordan stable.  My thanks to the publisher for the advance copy.
Was this review helpful?
The Rick Riordan Presents series continues to impress. Paola Santiago is an awesome adventure story that middle grade readers will love, especially those into horror. I liked all of the characters, especially the protagonist, Pao. She is not your perfect unstoppable leading lady. However, her imperfections make her relatable and someone you will want to root for. I especially enjoyed all of the strong female characters in this book; the boys to a backseat to their strength. I am excited that this one is a series and look forward to reading the rest.
Was this review helpful?
This was an excellent story that is based on a Mexican folktale about a mother named La Llorona. Like all folktales, variations exist, but the general outline of the story is that a woman kills her own children and she is now a spirit who mourns their deaths forever; many have her spirit killing other children as a way to save her children. I was not at all familiar with the tale, but I really enjoyed this rendition with Paola as the MC. I love that she is very human and flawed and she learns about how her flaws can be both strengths and weaknesses. Like many people, she goes back and forth between wanting to fix the results of her actions and berating herself for her actions. I love these books in the Rick Riordan presents because the stories are ones that fans of Percy Jackson would enjoy; they often draw on mythology or folklore, they tend to be humorous and full of action, and they target middle school children but contain enough layers that older folks will enjoy them. But best of all, this group of books tends to be about underrepresented cultures and backgrounds and that's made it even more enjoyable for me. I've read quite a few books from this branch of the publisher, and have already added several others to my TBR list. If you're a fan of Percy Jackson and that style of book, you'll really enjoy this one.

Thanks to #TehlorKayMejia, #RickRiordanPresents, and #NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
Paola's friend Emma is missing. Did she drown like the girl from last year? Did she get kidnapped like those other kids did in a nearby town? Should Paola and her friend Dante just let the adults handle it? When Paola decides there is not enough time to get the adults up to speed, she pitches her plan to Dante and then unexpected things start to happen. Perhaps the mystical beliefs of her mother are not so crazy after all. Could it be that even science requires an element of faith? This new Rick Riordan series looks promising. I found the whole story to be a bit long with too much wandering in cactus fields for my taste. Kids who love Percy Jackson will want to give this one a try.

Thank you to Disney Book Group and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This book celebrates diversity and courage. Paola's troubled relationship with her mother is dwarfed by the astonishing reality of the tale of La Llorona. Paola is confronted with the realities of her mother's fears when she discovers a dangerous world where humanity's fate will be decided.
Was this review helpful?
Thanks to partner NetGalley for the digital ARC of Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Paola Santiago and the River of Tears in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, August 4, 2020.

Paola Santiago is obsessed with the mysteries of the world: how humans can use algae to reduce fossil fuel use, what it's really like in space, why her mother won't let her get a dog, why her family never has enough money. But most of all, she wants to know why she wakes up every night with nightmares about the river.

With Paola, Tehlor Kay Mejia has written an appealingly authentic twelve-year-old protagonist who is anchored firmly in what is objectively real. When her mother warns Paola about the dangers of the river, Paola scorns her fears because they’re not grounded in science--instead, they’re based in ghost stories, like the one about La Llorona. 

Much more pressing for Paola is her changing relationship with her best friends Dante and Emma. Dante joined the soccer team and has become increasingly interested in looking cool . . . and in his hair. Paola worries that he is leaving her and Emma behind. So when Paola has a chance for all three of them to spend time together, she ignores her mother’s warnings (as she always does) and plans a meeting by the river. But Emma doesn’t show up.

What begins then is a search for Emma, a test of friendship, and a horrible realization that her mother’s stories may have been true after all.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, part of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, is a compelling tribute to what it feels like to be twelve, to be holding on to childhood and childhood friends while moving inevitably toward adulthood. Tehlor Kay Mejia’s novel is also a great mystery and a brilliant tribute to the power of ghost stories, folklore, and mythology.
Was this review helpful?