A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Some words and phrases in Spanish, some defined and some with context clues. Offers insight, inspires empathy for people who encounter prejudice and stereotyping. Lots of creatures and figures from Latinx folklore, especially Mexican folklore. Some statistics about how Latina women receive poor medical care.
You are your own person, and only you get to decide who or what you want to be. You're not bound by your family or the past to be something you don't want to be. If things are awkward with a friend or loved one and you don't understand why they do or say what they do, talk about it. If you wait for the situation to work itself out, it might be to late to save the relationship.
Positive Role Models
Paola, 13, is a positive Latinx role model. She's smart, very science-oriented, models perseverance, clever problem-solving, and loyalty. Dante has changed and isn't really friends with Paola any more. Naomi offers a lot of "snark," but models courage and perseverance. Paola and her mom aren't getting along very well since her mom started dating. Other characters model a range of behaviors and personalities.
Most charactters are Latinx and have a wide range of personalities, interests, and character strengths. One of Paola's best friends is White, "out," and learning about her privilege and how to be an effective ally for her Latinx friends. Her middle school has a large LGBTQIA+ club. A couple of minor characters are White. Several disparaging remarks about White people, like referring to a group of White women as "Karens," and a character who says that White people see only what they want to see. Offers insight into how people are marginalized, and why people who don't have ID documentation might feel hesitant to seek help from authorities like police and ambulances.
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Violence & Scariness
Lots of scary monsters and figures from folklore. Creepy atmospheres like a dark forest with glowing green eyes watching. Violence is in the fantasy realm. Characters are frequently in peril from nightmarish monsters. No gore, but blood from injuries is mentioned a couple of times; pain's described briefly. Fantasy creatures bleed green goo. Large battles with fantasy creatures include fantasy weapons like clubs and knives that make creatures shatter or dissolve. Ghost stories and mentions of folklore characters who've killed many people. A character strapped in a chair in danger of being killed by the villain's fantasy procedure.
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Products & Purchases
Frequent mention of Duolingo. Brief mention of Starburst.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Two minor characters smoke cigarettes. Empty wine bottles seen in a bedroom.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares, by Tehlor Kay Mejia (We Set the Dark on Fire), is the second folklore-based fantasy in a planned series with lots of nightmarish monsters, evil forces, and creepy, spooky locations. The story centers on an international ghost/folktale story about The Hitchhiker. This book stands alone pretty well, but reading River of Tears first will give a deeper understanding of the characters, and the events in this book will have a greater impact. There's no gore, but blood is mentioned a few times, and in the fantasy realm kids fight ghost-like monsters that ooze green goo from injuries. Separation from parents is a prominent theme. Paola, her friends, and family are positive Latinx representations. Overall, the story emphasizes friendships: some last, some change, and some end. Institutional racism and prejudice are mentioned now and then but not explored in depth. It's a good opportunity to talk with your kids about issues Emma raises and how she tries to be a strong ally.
Is It Any Good?
This exciting fantasy series keeps the chills and thrills from River of Tears going strong with a smart, science-minded Latina as the main character. It stands on its own pretty well, but reading the books in order will bring a deeper understanding of the characters and the impact of the events in Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares. Paola's now in seventh grade, and big kids and tweens will relate to her confusion and frustration over changing friendships, and the way her mother's changing, too. They'll also admire her courage and determination to make things right.
The action, spooky atmospheres, and spine-tingling fantasy-folklore creatures are all back in full force, along with many familiar characters from the first book. Characters deal with important issues facing society and provide food for thought without getting in the way of the story. Nightmarish fantasy creatures and themes of being separated from parents make it best for big kids and up.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Books with Latino Characters
Books with Strong Female Characters
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