First a quick note – today is the last day for authors and publishers to submit books that were not nominated during the public nominations period for consideration for the Cybils Award. As a panelist, I would like every eligible book nominated, so if you are an author or publisher whose book was missed, please do read the rules and submit it!!
And now, on to our book of the day – a dark but funny tale of monsters of Mexican myth and the preteens who battle them to rescue their friends perfect for your Halloween reading.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia. Read by Frankie Corzo. Rick Riordan Presents, 2020. ISBN 978-1368049177. Listened to audiobook on Libby.
Paola Santiago – Pao for short – is constantly embarrassed by her mother, who burns green candles when they don’t have enough money and is always warning Paola not to go near the Gila River because of the danger of La Llorona. It’s true that a girl from her school – pale-skinned and blonde to Paola’s darker hair and skin – disappeared there a year ago. Paola thinks she got in trouble because of going in the river itself, and that she and two best friends, who meet near the river to read comic books or stargaze (depending on the time of day) will be perfectly safe.
But one evening she and her friend Dante, who live in the same run-down apartment complex, go to meet their friend Emma – who is white and lives in a nicer neighborhood. And Emma never shows up. The fallout from this demonstrates both the very different way that Emma’s parents and Paola and Dante are treated by the police when they try to report this. And when Paola tries to get Dante to sneak out with her to look for Emma, Dante’s grandmother tells them to go, giving them – an old slipper, Emma’s little kid flashlight, and a bottle of Florida water as weapons???
Paola has always loved physics more than fantasy, but what starts to happen has her building a whole new set of rules for how the world works. Even her friendship with Dante is changing as her stomach starts to swoop when he looks at her.
There are multiple Mexican-American myths woven into this story that involves a lot more children going missing than your typical Rick Riordan-style story, as well as the more expected army of young teens and tweens battling the forces of darkness that adults are oblivious to. Paola herself is a satisfyingly prickly and skeptical main character, loyal to her friends even as she’s struggling with their relationships and not interested in playing nice just to keep the peace either with them or with the established norms of the adults. It did take the story a little while to get going for me, but the pace kept up once it got going.
If fighting off hordes of undead monsters with the aid of an adorable chupacabra puppy sounds appealing, this is a book for you!
Stay tuned for more books both for spooky reading and based on Latinx legends, coming soon!