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Paola Santiago #1

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

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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.

350 pages, Hardcover

First published August 4, 2020

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About the author

Tehlor Kay Mejia

17 books970 followers
TEHLOR KAY MEJIA is a bestselling and award winning author of young adult and middle grade fiction.

Her debut young adult novel, WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, received six starred reviews, as well as the Oregon Spirit Book Award for debut fiction, and the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award runner up honor for debut speculative fiction. It has been featured on Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and O by Oprah Magazine’s best books lists, and was a 2019 book of the year selection by Kirkus and School Library Journal. Its sequel, WE UNLEASH THE MERCILESS STORM, followed to continuing acclaim, while MISS METEOR (co-written with National Book Award Nominee Anna-Marie McLemore) was named to the American Library Association’s 2021 Rainbow List, honoring outstanding contributions in LGBTQIA teen fiction.

Tehlor’s debut middle grade novel, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS, was published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney/Hyperion. It received four starred reviews, and was named Amazon’s best book of 2020 in the 9-12 age range. It is currently in development at Disney as a television series to be produced by Eva Longoria.

Tehlor lives with her daughter, partner, and two small dogs in Oregon, where she grows heirloom corn and continues her quest to perfect the vegan tamale. She is active on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 529 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 316 books397k followers
June 22, 2020

Don’t Go Near the Water

When I was a kid growing up in Texas, I was terrified of going in deep water. That wasn’t just because the movie Jaws freaked me out. (Although, yes, that giant robotic shark scared the Twizzlers out of me).

Worse: I had grown up listening to campfire stories about La Llorona, the weeping ghost who had drowned her own children in a river, was now condemned to wander the riverbanks for eternity, looking for their bodies. If she happened to come across some other mortal children at the river, well . . . She might claim you as her own and drag you into the depths.

Whenever my family camped near the river, I would hear strange wailing sounds at night. I’d huddle deeper inside my sleeping bag. The next morning, I sometimes found heavy tracks in the mud, as if made by dragging, shuffling zombie feet. I was sure La Llorona had been on the prowl, looking for some poor child like me to drag into the cold murky depths. Yeah, I had a fun childhood. Thanks for asking.

That’s one reason I’m so excited to share Tehlor Kay Mejia’s Paola Santiago and the River of Tears with you. She gives us a brand-new take on the ancient folktale of La Llorona, and I want you to be as terrified as I was!

To be fair, our hero Paola Santiago is a lot braver than I was in seventh grade. She’s got a scientific mind, and she doesn’t believe in old folk legends like La Llorona . . . even if she has had horrible nightmares about the nearby Gila River her whole life, and even though her mom is always warning her about bad spirits and lighting protective candles to keep her safe. Ghosts aren’t real. Are they? Her mom is just spouting silly superstitions. Right?

Then, when something terrible happens at the river -- something that could shatter Pao’s entire life and the lives of her best friends -- Paola starts to wonder if science will be enough to figure out the mystery.

This story is chocked full of suspense and fantastical elements, but it’s more than just a page-turner. I love Paola Santiago because the characters are so relatable. Have you ever struggled with loving your parents but also being mortally embarrassed by them? Have you ever been secretly jealous of a best friend? Have you ever secretly crushed on a friend? Paola’s got all those problems and more. She’s smart and courageous, but she’s also a bubbling stewpot of conflicting emotions about herself, her friends, her family. Does she have what it takes to handle all that and confront the truth about La Llorona and the strange disappearances that have been happening around town? You’re about to find out!

I’m really enviousness of you, reading this book for the first time. You’re going to make some life-long friends in Paola, Emma, Dante and the rest of the marvelous characters. So put another log on the campfire, guys. Roast some s’mores. Get ready to laugh and enjoy and maybe even shiver in fear at the story you’re about to hear. But whatever you do . . . don’t go near the water.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,424 reviews9,003 followers
January 21, 2023
Paola Santiago is a rational, science-loving, 12-year old, who is frequently embarrassed by her Mother's overtly superstitious nature.

When Mom is not burning candles for various reasons, she is busy warning Paola of the dangers of nonsensical things, like not going near the river Gila because of the legendary La Llorona.

Paola will admit, the river can be dangerous. In fact, one of her classmates drowned there just last year, but it had nothing to do with La Llorona.

Despite the dangers, Paola and her best friends, Dante and Emma, still hang around on the river's banks frequently; although they don't tell their parents.

The temperature is always cooler at the river's banks and it's also the best stargazing location in town. The trio arrange to meet at their usual spot one evening, but Emma doesn't show.

Pao, searching around for her friend, notices a shadowy figure on the opposite bank. Something about it causes her to feel like there may be more to the river than she once believed.

They phone Emma's house, hoping her parents will say she is there, but she's not.

When the authorities prove unhelpful, Pao and Dante decide to look for Emma themselves.

From there, the kids are plunged into a dangerous world of missing children and mysterious creatures of legends and lore.

The river connects them all in ways Pao's scientific mind can't quite make sense of. Regardless, she is willing to risk it all in order to save her friend.

I really enjoyed my time reading this story. Pao and Dante were such fun characters to get to know. Their budding relationship is really sweet.

I loved the underlining themes that ran throughout this as well, that of family and identity.

At times the narrative seemed a bit too chaotic for my tastes, but I am sure for a Middle Grader it would be completely compelling.

My old brain just got a little lost from time to time. Overall, this is a super fun story. I had never heard of the legendary La Llorona, but am definitely interesting in learning more, or reading more, about that now.

I've said it before, but will say it again, the Rick Riordan Presents imprint is a gift to the world.

Highly recommend the books published through this imprint for all ages. They also make great gifts, as my niece and nephew can attest!

Profile Image for Gavin Hetherington.
665 reviews5,325 followers
September 22, 2020
A thoroughly enjoyable start of a series with a world that I predict will only get more rich with each passing book. I loved some of the exploration of Mexican folktales, such as the chupacabras and La Llorona, however I was expecting something entirely different going into this, and I'm mostly pleasantly surprised by what this book ended up being.

Paola is a fantastic protagonist - she doesn't believe the legends and would always try to find the scientific or rational explanation, but along with her friend Dante, she ends up having to be a bit more open-minded about the legends that are unfolding around her. I loved the moments where she started to accept that legends and curses were real, it was actually quite hilarious!

Paola could really hold her own. I also loved how this book handled institutional racism in the scenes where Paola had to deal with the police following her friend Emma's disappearance. Since this is middle grade, I hope it will help open up that conversation with children about equality.

The atmosphere was great and there were plenty of spooky scenes, and there's always been something about La Llorona that has terrified me. There was a lot of wandering around aimlessly too, but it was an overall enjoyable reading experience and I'll definitely pick up the sequel.
Profile Image for Ashley.
758 reviews406 followers
September 25, 2020
Star Rating: —> 3.5 Stars

This was great! I loved getting to delve deep into latinx lore! It is actually, surprisingly, one culture’s folklore that is quite new to me, in a way. More the presentation, rather than the actual tales & creatures and such (Supernatural is quite informative, on all things, well, supernatural, naturally, for a fictional TV show; i’ve learned quite a lot over the years! I mean come on—Dean & Sam never disappoint! 😉)

Discovering new mythological/ folklore tale based novels is one of my favorite things to do, everrrr.

I love the vision of the Rick Riordan Presents imprint— bringing diverse #ownvoices mythology/ folklore-based stories from authors of all manners of cultural backgrounds to the middle grade audience (though you can bet that they can be enjoyed by any reader)— it’s amazing! Through Riordan’s already very well-established fan base, these diverse stories are able to reach a larger audience... and that IS SO WONDERFUL! :-)

I’ve gotta say, with this being Mejia’s debut full-length novel... I was impressed!

Even if this technically IS a middle grade story, the legend of la llarona has always both fascinated & terrified me (I do love a good ghost story, after all!), & the premise of this story was AWESOME!

It definitely delivered, although not as much as I had hoped... BUT there will definitely be more of Paola Santiago to come (which I can’t wait to see!), & Mejia delivered a fun, nail biter of a story none-the-less! aaaand an even more awesome series premise than I could’ve imagined, actually!

Paola Santiago is one badass & smart protagonist! I love her!

What an exciting, chill-inducing, spooky-fun romp in latinx lore! I really, really enjoyed this & look forward to reading book 2 in the series next year!

Okay literally- gimme gimme gimme RIGHT NOW. The legend of La llarona ? Having to enter the world of her nightmares ???

Two words- YES. PLEASE.


*jumps up and down repeatedly*
(Well, in my mind, because... cuddling. Obviously. Mustn’t disturb a greyhound, sphynx cat, & hubby’s beauty sleep. They’d all be terribly cranky & melodramatic about it.)
Profile Image for Darla.
3,149 reviews446 followers
July 28, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Rameela (Star).
647 reviews226 followers
August 4, 2020
Initial Thoughts: Y'all this was so fantastic I was so blown away!!!! Idk how to even gush about this properly because it was so fun and amazing and new and DARK! I did NOT expect the darkness and I welcome it with open arms! Absolutely PHENOMENAL
January 15, 2023
This book was a reminder that sometimes, you have to hang in there. To me, this was a slow starter. And then it gets pretty weird, and I was brought to ask myself what was going on. Maybe it was so different from what I expected and that threw me off. Ultimately, I enjoyed the book, but I had a few issues with it that brought my rating down.

Paola, or Pao as she's called, has a huge chip on her shoulder. However, I do like that she is self-aware of her anger issues and how it makes her relationships with others complicated. Pao has a rocky relationship with her mother, as they are polar opposites. Pao is an empiricist, and is very focused on the scientific method (she is fascinated with space), whereas her mother is spiritually-minded, believes in healing crystals and candles. Pao blames her mother for their poor situation in life, not having a lot of money. Pao comes off as quite bitter at times. This is pretty important to the story as things go along, but it was a bit of a drawback.

The plot had a sense of vagueness that I didn't care for. In general, I learned what was going on behind the phenomena, but I don't feel like the mechanisms were explained enough for me. It was left to a superficial explanation that didn't work for me. I was left with this feeling that the author just wanted us to accept that things could happen because of magic. But there is a natural component brought up that made me wonder if some of the phenomena is not related to the location where it occurs and not just because of magic. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, as Pao, a scientist, conceivably would have wondered about that.

Yeah, I know, I'm over-thinking this book. Having said all that, I appreciate what this book does well. I loved how it shows people of Latinx cultures and how they are not a monolith, although it also shows how there are shared values that are foundational to their community. It's a story of loving your parents and giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the best they can for you even if it doesn't seem like it. I loved the way that the narrative allows Pao to look at how her behavior and attitudes are a form of self-sabotage. That was so important to her growth as a character as she starts out borderline unlikable in parts. It also looks at the importance of friendships in which you are accepted as your authentic self, warts and all. The book also touches on the bigotry experienced by Latinx people, including unjust treatment by law enforcement and a lack of economic opportunities.

I can't say I 100% liked the direction the author took with the La Llorona legend, but it was an interesting twist. Overall, this was an enjoyable book, and I'm glad I was able to get the audiobook from my library, as it has one of my new favorite narrators, Frankie Corso. She's read a few of Silvia Moreno-Garcia books, and I love her voice. There's a lot to recommend about this book, despite any shortcomings. I will always support narratives by people who write about their own culture, and I can't get enough of it. I'll keep reading this series.

Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
Profile Image for CW ✨.
625 reviews1,686 followers
October 14, 2021
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a fun take on the La Llorona folklore and has some awesome twists and turns that will keep you entertained.

- Follows titular Paola Santiago, a space-loving Mexican girl with a scientific mind who doesn't really believe her mother's superstitions. But when one of her best friends goes missing, a series of events leads Paola into another dimension connected to her best friend's disappearance - as well as other missing children.
- I loved Paola as a character! I loved that she rationalised everything, was logical and scientific, and a little bit of a 'realist', which conflicted with her mother's view of the world. This creates friction between them, and I thought that this was a unique take on science vs. cultural beliefs.
- As I said before, this is a cool and unique take on La Llorona folklore, that imbues a new life and depth into the story.
- I appreciated that this story candidly explores and portrays racism and poverty.
- Unfortunately, I didn't really gel with the pacing of the story. There's a strong beginning, an intriguing beginning to the second arc, but the pace slows down considerably from the halfway point onwards, and the pace did drag. When the story was in the fantastical/other dimension area, the imagery and worldbuilding felt weaker, so I felt disconnected from the story.

Content warning: explicit racism toward children, some fantasy violence
Profile Image for USOM.
2,277 reviews190 followers
August 3, 2020
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a charming middle grade full of heart. Starring Paola, a space obsessed girl, it's a story of friendship, first crushes, and jealousy. It's also a story about the clash between religion and science and between issues of prejudice and privilege. I love STEM girls so much and seeing Paola was wonderful as she deals with new experiences, betrayal, and family conflict.

full review: https://utopia-state-of-mind.com/revi...
Profile Image for Eileen.
1,822 reviews70 followers
July 28, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Mila.
770 reviews66 followers
August 28, 2020
While I definitely enjoyed the mythology and lore aspect of the novel and I liked Paola as a character, I somehow expected a different story and this plot wasn't as exciting as it could've been. And that's why I'm not going to read the sequel, though I can see why other people will.
Profile Image for Ally (AllyEmReads).
639 reviews44 followers
September 7, 2020
3.5 stars

This was incredible! I loved reading about all the ghost stories I grew up hearing from my friends at sleepovers. La Llorona was present in a lot of them, as well as the chupacabras and the demon hands crawling up out of the earth. I can’t imagine what this book means to Latinx people, and I for sure will be recommending it to everyone I can find!
Profile Image for Meisha (ALittleReader).
215 reviews52 followers
November 30, 2020
This was such an adventurous, unique and well written middle grade book! I found it to be so much darker (in a good way) than I had expected. There was a lot of action and there were constantly new things to see and learn about. I really enjoy learning about latinex folklore and this incorporates some different folklore that I didn’t know about. I can only imagine how excited the latinex community must be to see their folklore represented.
At the beginning of the book Pao really irritated me. I found her to be selfish, very easily jealous and it got on my nerves. That being said, it was refreshing to see a flawed character that wasn’t perfect in every way. I think it’s important to see those types of characters in books and especially in middle grade literature! I was pleased that the issues I had with Pao were addressed by the end of the book and Pao grew a lot by that point.
Wonderful children’s book!!
Thank you Rick Riordan Presents for the arc in exchange for an honest review!!
Profile Image for Sammie.
418 reviews39 followers
August 9, 2020
You can read my full review on my blog, The Bookwyrm's Den, here.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Rick Riordan Presents for a copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

I’ve been looking forward to this book pretty much since it was announced, because, one, Rick Riordan Presents as an imprint is hitting it out of the park with these releases and, two, La Llorona was a part of my childhood, and yes to all the Mexican folklore in this.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a harrowing adventure into a dark world full of myth and superstition, where a young girl learns to find her light.

This was a fun adventure that took a little while to get started, but once I was in, I was in. That much was as expected. What I didn’t expect was how much heart this story had. Oof, it got me directly in the feels several times, and the last 25% especially were such an emotional roller coaster. I can’t wait for the second book now, based on some secrets this book teases!

My Thoughts:

- Paola Santiago is a girl who believes firmly in science and logic … and who is about to have everything she thought she knew tested. First, I thought it was so refreshing for a female protagonist to so unabashedly love science. Paola’s arc was so wonderfully partly because she doesn’t just believe in science, but she believes in it to the detriment of everything that doesn’t cleanly and logically fit into her world view. You know, like her mother’s superstitions and folklore, which annoy her to no end, because she thinks her mother is holding her back by falling into some Mexican stereotype. One that Paola doesn’t want to be a part of. The real beauty of Paola’s arc is that she not only grows a little more mature by the end, but she accepts that she’s not always going to have such maturity, because she’s 12, and it’s okay to be 12. Honestly, this was such a fresh, wonderful take on it, and I loved it. What Paola really showcases is that you can learn from these and turn it around later, even if you’re not always perfect in the moment.

- This book is chock full of Mexican culture, from some Spanish phrases to la chancla (it’s not quite what you think, I promise), and monsters right out of Mexican folklore. I know some Mexican folklore, but not nearly as much as I thought, apparently? Because I was surprised by additions more often than I should have been, so I refuse to tell you anything about the folklore itself so you can discover it as you go, too. In case you couldn’t tell from the La Llorona mention, some of this folklore can get downright dark and creepy. I mean, you’ve got a woman who drowned her children and is now lamenting it in death as the figurehead of this book. Not exactly screaming roses and sunshine here. The book itself was definitely uplifting and had a positive message, but I’d be remiss in not saying that it delves into some pretty ugly things. The way some of these creatures are described, too! It’s just *chef’s kiss*.

- It takes a little while for this book to really get going, but once it does, it’s a wild ride full of adventure and feels! I feel like we’ve come to expect adventure from a Rick Riordan Presents book at this point, but there’s nothing better than the feels naturally blindsiding you in the middle of a life-threatening romp for the sake of humanity, am I right? Little Paola is dealing with a lot of big emotions, from racism to a father who abandoned her and her mother, to racism, to her first major crush. It’s a lot for anyone. It’s not even only Paola’s feelings in this, because the antagonist has some pretty big feelings, too, which was really nice to see. Scary, murdery, and mostly bad for humanity feelings, but big feelings, nonetheless.

- I loved the strong friends vibe in this book, and how Paola is grappling with it maybe becoming something more. Paola struggles with a lot of age-appropriate things, like how to handle a first crush, if the feeling is mutual, and even jealousy. It’s hard when friendship dynamics change, no matter what the reason is. I liked the fact that the budding maybe-romance was present and treated realistically but didn’t dominate the book. Paola’s experience was so sweet and so entirely pre-teen that I couldn’t help but love it. Also, the banter between these two? On. Point. Twelve year old’s got some snark. Who would’ve guessed?

- The major themes in this book are forgiveness and understanding, and it made for such a beautiful read. I’m not even sure I can impress upon you just how much I absolutely LOVED this aspect of the book. I may have teared up a little bit. Just a little. I probably had something in my eye is all. *sniff* I actually don’t want to say too much about this theme, because it was so well done that you really just need to discover it. Needless to say, there’s a lot of forgiveness to go around. My favorite thing (probably because I’m biased) has to be the dynamic between Paola and her mother, which is where the understanding comes in. Because while Paola’s mother always believed in the folklore, Paola turned her nose up at it, and it was a real point of contention between them.
November 14, 2020
For my first book by Tehlor Kay Mejia I really enjoyed this one and Ik nothing about this one except what my friend lori told me about which I buddy read this one with her. It was book number 3 for #believeathon round 3! I am going to take a break from middle grades and read some ya!(:
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,840 reviews188 followers
June 22, 2020
The eponymous Paola believes in science — and nothing else except unfettered loyalty to her friends Dante Mata and Emma Lockwood, all aged 12. Paola especially doesn’t believe in the witchy old wives’ tales so dear to her desperate Mexican-American single mom. La Llorona, los ahogados, el Chupacabra, spirits from beyond and all the spooky rest of it — including the velas (candles) lit around the house — simply reflect ignorant, backward-looking minds.

But when Emma vanishes, leaving nothing but her expensive ring behind, Paola discovers that there’s way more to life — and death — than science. And in this new supernatural realm, what can she trust? And other Dante, whom?

Author Tehlor Kay Mejia has crafted a wonderful middle-grade novel that provides plenty of suspense and thrills; she also includes plenty of Mexican-American folklore and a nuanced reminder of how different life can be in this world when you’re brown and poor. Latinx kids will love it, of course; so will everyone else, regardless of ethnicity or age. Highly recommended.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from Disney Book Group and Rick Riordan Presents in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for rat.
131 reviews2 followers
Want to read
August 30, 2019
Ohhhhh I'm so ready for this
Profile Image for Heather.
613 reviews8 followers
October 12, 2020
When Paola's friend Emma disappears, she is thrown into a world of myths and legends that her logical brain previously thought to be just stories. Not only does this book bring to light folklore and tales that may not otherwise be highlighted, it manages to tackle timely issues such as racism and immigration (and does so in such a way that will prompt all readers to think about these issues, and hopefully lead to discussion about said issues). It also brings to light issues like crushes, dealing with parents who you feel so different from, and growing up as a young adult. I adored this book so much, and can't wait for the next installment - Tehlor Kay Mejia has truly created something special in this world.

(also as a postscript, shoutout to Rick Riordan for being the only non-crappy white cis male author who uses his privilege to elevate #ownvoices novels and stories outside of your typical white kid lead)
Profile Image for Victor The Reader.
1,198 reviews15 followers
October 18, 2020
One “spirited” and fairly chilling adventure that has the Hispanic folklore ghost La Llorona as it’s villain. Paola and her friend Dante must venture beyond a forbidden river, where a tragic drowning occurred, to find her other friend Emma who strangely vanished. More different than the other stories in the RRP series as it definitely is it’s own story that certainty is a excitingly thrilling one. A- (91%/Excellent)
Profile Image for CozyReaderKelly.
421 reviews68 followers
September 23, 2021
I loved this book so much! The atmosphere was fantastic, full of scary creatures and desert landscapes. At first I did not enjoy Pao as a character, but as the book went on I thought her character growth was so well done, and I found myself totally rooting for her by the end. There were lots of adventures that Pao and Dante go on in their journey to save Emma, and so many of them caught me by surprise. This was such an enjoyable read!
Profile Image for Cait Hutsell.
300 reviews21 followers
March 21, 2020
I LOVED this book. It’s exciting, has great characterization, it’s funny, and it hits that sweet “7th-9th” grade spot.

I highly recommend for any reader of fantasy, mythology, and magical realism.
Profile Image for Anita McDivitt Barrios.
917 reviews11 followers
October 25, 2021
This is a creepy middle grade read for Halloween that focuses on the tale of La Llorona, the weeping woman who cries at the side of a river for the children she's murdered, but warps her tale in a way that's both old and new at the same time.

Paola Santiago is not a likely candidate for believing in La Llorona -- if it isn't scientifically provable, she's not interested. Her mother, on the other hand, is all about folk remedies and beliefs and embarrasses Paola to no end in their tight-knit Silver Springs, AZ apartment community.

Paola and her friends, Emma and Dante, are used to roaming free on their bikes and frequent the banks of the Gila River for its coolness in the heat, and to talk and star-gaze. But one night, Emma doesn't show up, and when Pao leads police to the river, she finds Emma's bracelet -- something Emma would never allow to let slip, not unless something horrible has happened.

Quickly Pao and Dante are swept up and out of the world as they know it and into another world, one in which grandma's chancla is a powerful Talisman, capable of defeating blood-thirsty chupacabras. But where's Emma? Why does La Llorona want her? And what will the friends have to do to release Emma from La Llorona's deadly grasp?

A great creepy Halloween read! Enjoy!

Looking for more book suggestions for your 7th/8th grade classroom and students?

Visit my blog for more great middle grade book recommendations, free teaching materials and fiction writing tips: https://amb.mystrikingly.com/
Profile Image for CW Knight.
54 reviews9 followers
May 31, 2022
I don’t know why, but ever since The Mark of Athena, I’ve been struggling through Riordan’s books (haven’t finished that series, don’t plan on picking up ToA anytime soon, dropped Magnus Chase after barely finishing book 1, holding onto hope for Daughter of the Deep). However, PJO and The Kane Chronicles are some of my favorite books. And this series following Paolo Santiago? It is the first time since the very first couple of HoO books that I felt like I was reading early Riordan.

Obviously, Tehlor Kay Mejia isn’t Rick Riordan, and there are variances in style, but it just had the same vibe that I’ve longed to see again since The Son of Neptune. The integration of the Mexican folklore/mythology was great, the characters had realness and life to them, and there was a real depth to the relationships and occurrences within the plot.

Paolo Santiago is a science-loving pre-teen raised by a mother who believes in magical tales from Mexican culture so, like, I’m sure you can see how well they’d mesh. But then one of her best friends goes missing, and yeah. Things start getting really complicated. So complicated that she and her other friend get tossed into a magical journey to find her.

The adventure is fun. Paolo’s voice remains strong throughout. Her best friend is a guy who really fits the basic image of a hero, and that creates a very interesting tension for Paolo, especially when she feels like she has some connection with the monster that took her friend.

There’s just so much this book does right and I just want to gush honestly. If you’re looking for a middle grade mythology book with heart, this is a great pick up. I look forward to the rest of the series!
Profile Image for Courtney.
702 reviews38 followers
August 4, 2020
I've been a Rick Riordan fan for ages, but this is the first Rick Riordan Presents book I've read, and it did not disappoint. Paola is a budding scientist who grates under her mom's superstitions, but when one of her best friends goes missing, she and her other best friend realize her mom's stories are real and enter the adjacent magical world. While I'm no longer the target demographic for children's books, I really enjoyed this and think fans of Riordan's would as well (I was also 100% HERE for when Pao points out how Latinx kids are treated by some authority figures and some have to fear ICE raids). I loved the Mexican folklore/myths and how Mejia brought them to life, even though I could have used a bit more explanation on some of them.. The Google Translate app was also helpful as I have a very minimal amount of working Spanish (even less than Pao does) but I really liked the occasional bits of Spanish that were woven in. I also really enjoyed Dante as a character and his and Pho's relationship, though I still had some unresolved issues around Marisa and some of the other kids (but I'm also a completionist who wants all the answers NOW) but maybe that's for future books to explain.
I'm intrigued to see where the series will go from here, but the book gave enough details for speculation (which is half the fun when you can't immediately jump into the next book).
Thanks to NetGalley/the publisher for an ARC!
Profile Image for Bethany.
901 reviews33 followers
August 7, 2020
Book #9 for Popculture readathon. Read a coming of age book by an AOC.

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.
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