In this fantastical, funny and heartwarming sequel to Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, the plucky protagonist seeks answers about her connection to the paranormal.
Even though 12-year-old Paola Santiago defeated the legendary ghost La Llorona, she feels invisible. Her mom ignores Pao while acting all "Suburban Susie of the PTA" for a new guy. And Dante, who kissed her cheek last summer, seems embarrassed by Pao. When new nightmares begin worrying her, she visits Dante's abuela against his wishes. Señora Mata tells Pao to find her father for answers or he will "topple the world." Then she collapses. Pao, believing her estranged father can tell Pao who she is and also help Señora Mata, recruits Dante (still on his "Pao-is-the-source-of-all-suffering-in-the-world routine") to find him. But the way is impeded by vicious fantasmas and painful grudges that will test Pao's resilience.
Tehlor Kay Mejia impresses with this moving middle-grade fantasy deeply rooted in Mexican American culture. Her Latinx cast criticizes racism and police bias ("How were you supposed to get care for the people you loved when the 'care' dispatched was equally likely to kill them?") while Mejia incorporates myth (a shapeshifting hitchhiker) and magic (dream travel). Pao's beautiful problem-solving mind and personal growth (including learning Spanish) shine, and her tension-relieving quips ("I'm a self-taught seventh-grade scientist, not a white lady with a podcast about true crimes!") temper heartbreaking moments. Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares is a satisfying follow-up, full of heart and humor that celebrates Mexican heritage, family and forgiveness. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer