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.
Tehlor Kay Mejia is very quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I read her YA fantasy duology this year and I’ve already preordered her co-written book that comes out soon. If that’s not clear, I loved this book.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears follows Paola (or Pao) as she tries to find her best friend. Emma was supposed to meet Pao and Dante at the river to test out Pao’s new telescope, but Emma never arrives. This leads Paola and Dante on a wild ride to find their best friend. First, the pair go home and try to call Emma because maybe she was still at home? But when they talk to her parents and learn she’s not home they go to the police. I really liked that this was included in the story. When Pao and Dante go to the police station to wait for Emma’s parents they are treated unfairly because they are Latinx. I really liked the way this story showed this reality that many deal with daily. I think it’s a really important thing to showcase in books for younger audiences. When Paola realizes that the police are not going to be helpful, she decides that she’s going to go to the river and find out what happened and try to save Emma. This is where mythology comes in. I never learned much about Mexican folklore or mythology so this was so much fun for me. I’d heard of some, like the Chupacabras, but didn’t really know much else. I had so much fun with all of the mythological aspects of this book. It was spectacularly spooky and honestly warms my heart to think of the kids that will see themselves and their culture represented in this story. I think this story is the perfect one for October (but still great year-round) because there are ghosts and all kinds of other monsters that Paola and Dante encounter.
Paola was a character I really loved. She struggles with her relationship with her mother. Her mother is very superstitious and Paola doesn’t care for that. She doesn’t believe in any of the things her mother tries to instill in her. She is a huge science nerd and I loved that. She tries to solve her problems with facts and logic and I loved the representation of a young girl interested in STEM. I really related to Pao’s issues with her mom and their rocky relationship. I really enjoyed that it was clear she loved her mom, but that they didn’t have a perfect relationship. Paola is a character I found myself rooting for the whole time.
Dante was interesting because we only see him from Paola’s perspective. I really wanted to like him, and I did. But I also felt bad because he was getting older and finding new things that interested him and Pao sort of resented him for that. Despite Paola not always being kind to him, he stood by her and protected her when he had the chance. He went with her to search for Emma even though he didn’t really want to. He was a real friend and I ended up really liking him.
There are so many other wonderful characters in this story. I loved them all. I think this was an incredible story. The world was so well built and beautifully written. I absolutely cannot wait for the next book in the series.
I do also want to mention that I listened to the audiobook and the narrator did such a great job telling this story. I will absolutely continue the series via the audiobooks if the next one has the same narrator.
Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.