Book Reviews

Review: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia

The Rick Riordan imprint continues to deliver wonderful diverse middle grade fantasies. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is no exception. A story of friendship, first crushes, and science, this middle grade fantasy is a winner. Keep reading this book review to see why you should add this to your list!


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.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a charming middle grade full of heart. Starring Paola, a space obsessed girl, it’s a story of friendship, first crushes, and jealousy. It’s also a story about the clash between religion and science and between issues of prejudice and privilege. I love STEM girls so much and seeing Paola was wonderful as she deals with new experiences, betrayal, and family conflict.

While Paola’s entire story is a non-stop action story about missing children, magical rivers, and mystical creatures, it’s also a story about opening our mind. We can be so sure the ground we stand on is flat, and then one day we realize it’s been spinning all along. Science and religion, our belief in the stars – infinitesimal points of light – and the legends in the shadows. I was expecting a world full of magic and adventure, but what captivated me was Paola’s story mixing adventure and her real life.

The privilege differences between Paola and her friends. The ways the police treat her differently. Her relationship with her mother. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears delivers a heartwarming, adventurous, and emotional story for all. I have been a fan of Mejia since We Set the Dark on Fire and my love just continues!

Find Paola Santiago and the River of Tears on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite STEM girl? Bonus points if middle grade!

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