Pao is going into seventh grade, and looks forward to spending the summer with her two best friends, Dante and Emma, although she’s worried a) that Dante will want to hang out on the soccer field with his team buddies more than by the river with the girls, and b) that the feelings she is starting to have will change their friendship. But Pao actually has much bigger things to worry about, as she finds out in this page turner by Tehlor Kay Mejia. Her scientific mind is stretched, as she realizes that the Mexican folk tales and superstitions her mother has been driving her crazy with are true.
Mom would know what to do, Pao thought, possibly for the first time in all her twelve years. Her mother would have known how to solve the riddle of the cactus field. She would have understood what Ondina was and why Marisa didn’t seem to be dead and what the third quarter was and why no one would shut up about it.
And if only Pao had listened to her, had just believed that the world might be bigger and stranger than she thought, maybe she wouldn’t be stuck here with all her useless science knowledge and no way out.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a gripping story and a rollicking ride. It’s no surprise that it belongs to the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, as it is written in the same colloquial, irreverent tone as his blockbuster books. I’ll admit, the suspense of the introduction (I don’t want to spoil the mystery) scared the crap out of me, (Am I allowed to say “crap” in a review? Too late.[Editor’s Note: Yes.]) and makes me question the suggested age range. I’d place this book more squarely in the middle school library, although I am an admitted wimp when it comes to scary stuff.
It’s easy to read Paola Santiago and the River of Tears as the spellbinding story of the supernatural that it is, but just as Pao learns that there’s more going on beneath the surface of the Gila River, the reader discovers there’s more depth in the book too. Themes of place and belonging are brought into sharp relief as Pao chafes at what she sees as her mother’s backwards beliefs. The kids experience racism and stereotyping that feel especially poignant in today’s divided climate. And while those problems won’t be solved as easily as Pao solves the mystery of La Llorona, books like this that tackle these thorny topics head on, with humor and intelligence, are a start.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Tehlor Kay Mejia
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Disney-Hyperion for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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