Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again - I love that there are so many book series being written that showcase mythology from around the world. While there are several authors approaching this subject, Rick Riordan is helping spread the word through his many sponsored series, one of which follows the story of a girl named Paola Santiago.

This blog focuses on the second installment in this series, and though I try hard not to add any spoilers, if you want to read the first book before jumping in here, that’s ok!

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares is the second in the series, picking up about six months after the first book ends. Paola and her friends Emma and Dante have returned from a harrowing journey to the void, but instead of feeling closer than ever, Pao has never felt more alone. Navigating the complex emotions of becoming a teenager amidst the challenges that come with changing family and friend dynamics, Pao is having a hard time. When her nightmares return filled with images of her estranged father, Pao is inspired to find him to discover the answers she seeks and save those she loves. Please see my full review here.

Action-packed and intense, readers will easily navigate this story, wondering about the many clues that lead Pao to her final destination. As Pao is becoming a teenager, her hormones are raging, causing her to make decisions and behave in ways that are atypical to her previous actions. Overt conversations about race and privilege are found throughout the story, helping readers of all backgrounds to understand a bit more about the challenges people of Latinx heritage face on a daily basis.

Paola spends much of the story investigating her cultural identity, referencing her process of learning Spanish on Duolingo several times. Her experiences cause Pao to fall more deeply in love with herself, embracing the things that make her unique despite the challenges they can bring. As the story unfolds and Pao understands more of the stories she grew up hearing, readers increase their own knowledge of Mexican folklore. I loved the fact that Spanish words and phrases are used in the narrative without being separated from their English counterparts. Even though I’m not fluent in Spanish, I understood enough from context and delivery to feel connected to every aspect of this dynamic story.

Pao must learn to trust herself as this story unfolds, especially as her adventure takes her farther from home and into the unknown. She learns that not everyone is as they first appear, and this realization can be heart wrenching at times. Blending exciting action sequences with the complexities of adolescence, this is an excellent addition to libraries for middle grade readers.

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