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

Title: Paola Santiago and the River of Tears

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents

Release Date: August 4, 2020

RATING: 3 Stars

School is out, and Paola Santiago, an analytic and science-loving mind, is excited to spend more time with her best friends, Emma and Dante. Their first get together involves trying out a new telescope on the banks of the infamous Gila River. But all three must keep their plans from their parents, especially Pao. Pao’s mother lives in a world where ghosts, myths, and legends are very much real. To the fact-based, logical Pao, her mother’s “nonsense” has created a very wide and very real chasm between them. Despite recent abductions in the area and Pao’s mother’s warnings about the evil river, Pao and Dante go to meet Emma. However, Emma is a no-show. When Pao and Dante begin searching for their friend, they are thrust into an alternate reality where the ghosts, myths, and legends Pao’s mother always believed in are indeed alive and well. As a result, Pao must fight demons, both inside and out, to save her friendships, save her relationship with her mother, and save the world. Hopefully, Pao can do it all before it’s too late.

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is an action-packed adventure that will appeal to those that love mythology fantasies. Similar to other Rick Riordan Presents publications, Tehlor Kay Mejia’s novel incorporates all the classic, familiar elements of a hero’s journey. These elements, along with excellent character development and the inclusion of Mexican culture and folklore, create an engaging, fun quest that young readers will devour. Unfortunately, readers may experience mythology/fantasy/quest fatigue depending on the number of Rick Riordan Presents books they have read. While Tehlor Kay Mejia writes a unique story, its similarity to other series in plot structure and even writing style prevent it from standing apart from other offerings. This is no fault of the author. La Llorona’s story is captivating and the focus on Mexican folklore is another strength of the novel. This could still yet separate it from other tales with similar arcs; those plot lines have appeal for a reason. Paola Santiago and the River of Tears is a gripping tale that demonstrates why all over again.

Young readers will surely love Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, especially those that cannot get enough of the Rick Riordan-esque novels. If considering classroom applications, it would be a perfect addition to literature circles that use 5-6 mythology fantasy novels (see suggestions below). 

Thank you to Netgalley and publisher, Rick Riordan Presents, for an eARC of this book!

Classroom Applications

  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books that incorporate folklore.
  • Book Club or Book Exchange – Share the novel with students that enjoy reading mythological fantasies.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • La Llorona
  • Mexican Folklore

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Paolo Santiago and the River of Tears. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief  by Rick Riordan (Character Connections, Themes, Plot Structure)
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Character Connections, Themes)
  • The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan (Character Connections, Themes)
  • Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha (Character Connections, Themes)
  • Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse (Character Connections, Themes)


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