Paola Santiago and the River of Tears | Book Review

I got my hands on an ARC of this book. My opinions are my own.

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.

This was my second Rick Riordan Presents novel and I was not disappointed.

Paola, or Pao, is a really engaging character, being fascinated with science, but who’s mother is very spiritual. And then she gets thrown into this paranormal adventure and is completely out of her depth. For all Rick Riordan Presents novels, the main character’s world is turned upside down, but it’s even more so evident with Pao, which made her even more sympathetic. Also, while I can’t comment on how well/poorly it’s handled, this book does tackle the “angry Latina” stereotype.

Paola has a rocky relationship with her mother because of their conflicting beliefs and in how Pao’s mother runs the house. I would really love to see more of that in the sequel.

The friendship between Pao, Dante, and Emma was a key part of the book and they were really compelling. It wasn’t just “oh they’re all friends and love each other” it was the dynamic between the well off Emma compared to Dante and Pao’s working class living. It was the dynamic of Pao being jealous that Dante may be separating from the friend group in favor of soccer friends, but also maybe having a bit of a crush on him.

Speaking of, Paola’s crush was cute and very reminiscent of my own middle school crushes. Also, I’m not making any grand claims that this book has gay characters, but I could absolutely see some feelings being explored in the next book as baby bi feelings, especially since Meija is queer.

In regards to the plot, I liked that we really couldn’t tell who was in the right. Pao is being given conflicting information from both sides and she doesn’t really like either one for different reasons. It really kept me on my toes and interested in reading.

Similar to the other RR Presents book I’ve read, I recognized some of the mythological creatures in the book, but it was really fun seeing all the new ones I hadn’t known about yet.

3.5 stars! I really enjoyed this, but I’m not 100% sure if I’ll read the sequel. I’ll have to wait until the synopsis is released. Because I am white and every aspect of this book is entrenched in Mexican culture and folklore, I highly recommend checking out ownvoices reviews of this book.

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