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America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Booked for Death by Victoria Gilbert
Careless Whiskers by Miranda James
Catstronauts: Digital Disaster by Drew Brockington
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty
Dehaunting by J.A. White
Family Tree, Volume 1: Sapling by Jeff Lemire and Phil Hester
For Whom the Book Tolls by Laura Gail Black and Janina Edwards (narrator)
The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner
Gargantis by Thomas Taylor
Kerry and the Knight of the Forest by Andi Watson
Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger and Emily Woo Zeller
Malamander by Thomas Taylor
A Man and His Cat, Volume 1 by Umi Sakurai
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher
The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Parachutes by Kelly Yang
Restaurant to Another World Volume 1 by Junpei Inuzuka and Katsumi Enami
River of Dreams by Jan Nash
Sandhill Cranes by Lynn M. Stone
School-Tripped by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
Shot in the Dark by Cleo Coyle
Some Enchanted Éclair by Bailey Cates and Amy Rubinate
Still Life by Louise Penny
Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
Time for Bed, Fred! by Yasmeen Ismail
Valley of the Lost by Vicki Delany

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Paola Santiago and the River of Tears: 09/11/20

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia is the start of a middle grade fantasy series. Paola "Pao" Santiago lives with her mother in a crumbling apartment building near the Gila River. Below her lives Dante, one of her best friends. Emma lives in a nice bit of town, but the three have been friends forever.

Although the children have received numerous warnings about the dangers of the Gila River, including the recent drowning of a girl about their age, it's one of the few places they can hang out undisturbed. It's also hard to take the La Llorona ghost stories seriously. Pao is too rational to believe the distraught ghost of a woman who drowned her children is still drowning children from beyond the veil.

When Emma goes missing, either drowned or kidnapped, the novel goes into high gear. It doesn't matter how rational Pao and Dante are, all the stories their families have told them are true and now they're sent to the liminal space along the river to rescue their friend.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is steeped in Latinx folklore. Tehlor Kay Mejia uses Spanish terms but doesn't define them, outside of context clues. It's an effective narrative choice to show how removed Pao and Dante are from their families' culture and language.

The quest to rescue Emma takes the novel into the road narrative spectrum. Although Pao and Dante travel together neither one gets any closer to finding her when they are working together. It's only after Pao is separated from Dante that the true journey begins. Pao on her own is an orphan traveler (FF).

The destination is somewhere on el otro lado. It's described as a veil and a void. It's not given a proper name and no one who has access to it wants to particularly give away any information. While it's not Oz, it is utopia, namely a no-place (FF).

Although this novel is set in the outskirts of Gila Bend, Arizona, along the Gila River, the route is the cornfield (FF). More specifically it's a tkaranto, with cacti standing in for the trees at the water's edge.

All together, this novel can be summarized as an orphan traveler going to utopia via the cornfield to rescue her friends (FFFFFF).

The next novel is Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares (May 2021).

Five stars

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