October 24, 2022

REVIEW Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares (Paola Santiago #2) by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares (Paola Santiago #2) by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: August 3, 2021
Format: eARC (Courtesy of Disney Books and Rockstar Book Tours) + Audiobook (Borrowed from Library)
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents (Disney-Hyperion)

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It’s been a couple of months since the events of the last book, and life is not smooth sailing for Pao. There’s a growing distance between her and her best friends Emma and Dante. Her Mom has a new boyfriend who’s moving in. Her nightmares have not gotten any better since she faced La Llorona in the Void. And to top everything off, she’s been having recurring visions of the father she hasn’t seen since she was 4 years old. Despite doing her best to stay away from all things supernatural (minus her chupacabra puppy Bruto, of course), she’s spurred into action after Senora Mata collapses. Now, in Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares, Pao sets off on an adventure in search of her father, hoping that he has the key to fixing the mysterious illness Dante’s grandma is experiencing. 

I loved getting to know the characters in the book better. In particular, I was a big fan of Emma’s in this novel. She’s a great friend and a good example of an ally who’s trying. Yes, there are definitely moments in the book where her attempts to help (courtesy of the Rainbow Rogues' many webinars) are too much for Pao, but she’s able to recognize when she might have overstepped. She also serves as a great contrast to allow the author to highlight social and economic differences in society (Pao hesitates to call an ambulance for Senora Mata, in fear of her possibly being taken by ICE, whereas Emma is able to somewhat casually call for a private ambulance using her father’s credit card). 

"There's no excuse for abusive behavior, even when you're traumatized"

In contrast to my love for Emma, Dante is a really hard character to get behind in this book. His interactions with Pao provided a sense of human authenticity to the book (as opposed to the supernatural drama Pao has to deal with). Yes, he’s hurting and he’s having to watch unexplainable things happen to his grandma (most likely due to paranormal/supernatural causes). However, that’s never an excuse to take it out on someone else. I appreciated Pao’s maturity in recognizing that he was lashing out because he was in pain, but she shouldn’t have had to deal with that in the first place.  I’m hoping that he gets a redemption storyline in the final book of the trilogy. 

Once again, the worldbuilding in this book was awesome. I love the figures that Ms. Mejia pulled out of Mexican folklore. "El Autostopisto" or the Hitchhiker ghost is one of the leyendas from the Void (a more powerful Fantasma akin to La Llorona). He is super scary, and his main form (since he is a shapeshifter) is quite intimidating - multiple eyes, multiple arms, and ginormous in height. I certainly would not want to be the one to face him! On the opposite side of the spectrum, you have the pint-sized Duendecillos, nature spirits who can enter dreams. It seems like it would be much more fun to meet one of them, especially Estrella! I was also quite intrigued by how Paola’s father is connected to the Void (though I do wish he had more on-page time in the book). 

Overall, this was a great addition to the series. I’m excited to read the next book, as the ending of this one set things up very well. Fans of the first installment, as well as the other books in the Rick Riordan Presents catalog will undoubtedly enjoy Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares. It’s a perfect read for those who love a blend of fantasy and horror, stories inspired by Mexican folklore and mythology, and a compelling storyline. 

About the Book

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the sequel to Tehlor Kay Mejia's critically acclaimed own-voices novel about science-obsessed Paola Santiago.

Paola is a brilliant, furious girl who often trusts her brain but trips over her heart.--Sarah Gailey, Hugo and Locus award-winning author of River of Teeth

Six months after Paola Santiago confronted the legendary La Llorona, life is nothing like she'd expected it to be. She is barely speaking to her best friends, Dante and Emma, and what's worse, her mom has a totally annoying boyfriend. Even with her chupacabra puppy, Bruto, around, Pao can't escape the feeling that she's all alone in the world.

Pao has no one to tell that she's having nightmares again, this time set in a terrifying forest. Even more troubling? At their center is her estranged father, an enigma of a man she barely remembers. And when Dante's abuela falls mysteriously ill, it seems that the dad Pao never knew just might be the key to healing the eccentric old woman.

Pao's search for her father will send her far from home, where she will encounter new monsters and ghosts, a devastating betrayal, and finally, the forest of her nightmares. Will the truths her father has been hiding save the people Pao loves, or destroy them?

Once again Tehlor Kay Mejia draws on her Mexican heritage to tell a wild and wondrous story that combines creatures from folklore with modern-day challenges. Endorsed by Rick Riordan, author of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, soon to be a series on Disney+.

About Tehlor Kay Mejia:

TEHLOR KAY MEJIA is a bestselling and award winning author of young adult and middle grade fiction.

Her debut young adult novel, WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, received six starred reviews, as well as the Oregon Spirit Book Award for debut fiction, and the Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award runner up honor for debut speculative fiction. It has been featured on Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and O by Oprah Magazine’s best books lists, and was a 2019 book of the year selection by Kirkus and School Library Journal. Its sequel, WE UNLEASH THE MERCILESS STORM, followed to continuing acclaim, while MISS METEOR (co-written with National Book Award Nominee Anna-Marie McLemore) was named to the American Library Association’s 2021 Rainbow List, honoring outstanding contributions in LGBTQIA teen fiction.

Tehlor’s debut middle grade novel, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE RIVER OF TEARS, was published by the Rick Riordan Presents imprint at Disney/Hyperion. It received four starred reviews, and was named Amazon’s best book of 2020 in the 9-12 age range. It is currently in development at Disney as a television series to be produced by Eva Longoria.

Tehlor lives with her daughter, partner, and two small dogs in Oregon, where she grows heirloom corn and continues her quest to perfect the vegan tamale. She is active on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay. 

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