Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents. Aug. 2020. 368p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368049177.
Gr 5-8–Twelve-year-old Paola “Pao” Santiago lives in Silver Springs, AZ, with her besties Dante and Emma. Her mother strongly believes in ancestor ghosts and regional legends like La Llorona, a weeping ghost who drowns her victims in the Gila River. Pao appreciates science and evidence, a position she must question when Emma disappears. Pao and Dante search for her in a magical hinterland, where their dream guide Ondina steers them past frightening chupacabras and ghost children ahogados. They reach a camp with immortal child warriors who defend Silver Springs but fear an overwhelming assault. Pao departs the camp to find Emma, facing a battle with the ghosts’ puppet master. Mejia’s Mexican American myth succeeds both as an extended quest and a humorous contemporary story. Her real genius lies, however, in detailed yet effortless characterization. It takes mere pages before readers will know and love Pao. Pao is both a pragmatist and a dreamer. Her loyalty to Emma and her changing feelings for Dante feel well integrated with the action. Minor characters like Ondina and the camp children have stand-out moments. And who can resist Pao’s acquisition of a demon hound? Character development, the Southwestern setting, and action share story space without seeming rushed. Spanish phrases, like those Dante’s abuela uses to advise the children, are understandable to non–Spanish speakers in context. Readers may wonder why the unwed mother in the folktale is shunned and could benefit from a grown-up’s explanation.
VERDICT A warm, thrilling Mexican American adventure. An essential purchase.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.