Review: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears (Paola Santiago #1)

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Source: Library
Format: Ebook
Release Date: August 4, 2020
Rating: ★★★★


Goodreads Synopsis:

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.


Twelve-year-old Paola Santiago and her friends Dante and Emma have been told to stay away from the river after a classmate drowned a year ago. Pao’s mother is superstitious and has also told her to stay away from the river so that she doesn’t meet La Llorona, a ghost woman who roams the river searching for young people to drag into the water. Naturally, they make the river their regular meeting spot. After they make plans to meet there one evening, Emma doesn’t show up. Paola has always believed strictly in science and not her mother’s superstitions, but her search for Emma makes her realize that her mother’s stories may be closer to the truth than she ever guessed.

This story was rooted in Latinx folklore. Paola’s mother was superstitious and told Paola stories about terrifying legends. However, Paola was disconnected from her culture. She didn’t speak Spanish, and she was opposed to anything her mother liked. When Paola went on her search for her best friend, she found that the folktales that her mom would tell her were actually true.

There were many dream-like scenes in this story. Paola was called the Dreamer, and she would have vivid dreams about people she knew. It was ironic that she was a dreamer, because she was very logical and scientific. Paola had to embrace this dreamer side of her personality to find Emma.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a fun start to this series!

What to read next:

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by Tehlor Kay Mejia

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

Other books in the series:

  • Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares

Have you read Paola Santiago and the River of Tears? What did you think of it?


Author: jilljemmett

Jill lives in Toronto, Canada. She has studied English, Creative Writing, and Publishing. Jill is the creator and content producer of Jill’s Book Blog, where she has published a blog post every day for the last four years, including 5-7 book reviews a week. She can usually be found with her nose in a book.

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