Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares by: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Right off the block I’m giving this book a solid four stars. I didn’t have to worry about diversity at all and that was a bit of relief. I loved the voices of the characters and Paola is a fiery child with a big personality.

She reminds me of my younger sibling and is a bright and strong protagonist. When it comes to the other characters they’re vivid as well. None outshine Paola however and I love that. There are instances in other books where the side characters overshadow the main character and that’s not the case here.

I didn’t read the first book and didn’t know this was the second in a series. That said, I had no problems catching up on what happened in the first story. The author explained it so well in such a creative way as Paola was going through the story. None of it felt forced, there were no info dumps and it was great.

I will absolutely recommend this to young readers. It’s something I know my young family members would like.

Plus, the chancla being a club made me laugh so hard that I snorted. I told a family member about it and he started laughing and telling me about his cousin when they were both younger and the chancla featured heavily.

A chancla club was absolutely hysterical and amazing.

What’s stopping me from giving this book five stars is one event. This is where it gets into spoiler territory.

Paola is bitten by a hellhound (essentially) and she ends up passing out from pain and whatever venom it pumped into her. She falls into a dream world that heals her but then while she’s dreaming she ends up in one of her best friend Dante’s memories.

It was weird and sudden. It was like a bad jump cut in a movie. One minute it’s one thing and the next it’s another. She also had the ability to change the past while in the memory. It took me out of the story because it made no sense to me.

How was she doing that? It was just out of left field and the pacing of that portion was off for me. It left me a bit annoyed.

Also, her relationship with Dante is damaged and falls apart throughout the story. He says some cruel things to her, blaming her for everything that’s gone wrong and it isn’t wrapped up in this book, it will most likely be wrapped up in the third.

However, I found Dante’s attitude annoyed and bratty. I know they’re kids and kids aren’t open about their feelings sometimes. And if they have a problem with someone they can say some really awful things. It was just infuriating to read.

To be blunt: I couldn’t stand him.

At the end it seems like someone is controlling and manipulating him and I hope that’s the case. If he rally was on his own with his words and they patch things up in book three, I might not enjoy it. What he said was awful and as a character I didn’t like him.

Also Paola has a friend who is an activist and an ally and, if I’m remembering right, she’s gay. She’s very big on activism and I love that.

However it felt heavy handed. She was blunt and spoke in ways no child would. YEs, the disparity between white and POC, rich and poor and the fear of the police was on display and that’s fine. That’s important since it’s a part of a lot of kids’ lives.

Her friend however felt like a caricature. And every time Paola saw a bathroom she would say something about how them being gendered was a bad thing. And I agree.

But then right after that, the author goes and uses the word handicapped.

All of this talk of activism and the author goes and uses a word that the disabled community has been demanding people stop using for decades.

It took me out of the book and as a disabled reader, it sort of pissed me off. She was so hellbent on shownig these kids were activists and awarae and then did that.

I hope she edits the book in later prints. When I recommend it I will put a warning in it because the word handicapped is very upsetting for a lot of us.


Author. Reader. Reviewer. Interested in Sci-fi, Fantasy, and everything in between. Ya, and Adult. Looking for representaion where it matters! BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, everything! We all deserve stories!

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