Our Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares book review is a spoiler-free discussion of the second book in Tehylor Kay Majia’s spectacular series.
Paola and all of her friends are back for Forest of Nightmares, and this book certainly lives up to the expectations set in the first installment.
For starters, we get everything we asked for from the first book—fantasmas, immortal warrior children, spooky dreams, and plenty of drama and action—but it also gives us some answers to the questions we’ve been asking since last year.
Paola’s entire world has been upended, and she spends the majority of this book trying to figure out who she is and how her life may change because of it. One aspect of the world that has gone haywire is the relationship with her friends, which is always a tough situation for anyone her age.
Once again, Mejia has opened up this world for our viewing pleasure and introduced some cool elements I haven’t seen in any of the other Rick Riordan Presents books. It’s a unique story, and I can’t wait to see the third and final book when it drops in 2022.
‘Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares’ book review
Forest of Nightmares reunites us with a Paola who has had her entire world upended. As someone who used to be a staunch believer in science and totally waved off any possibility that the paranormal was real, she is now caught somewhere in between.
It’s hard to break the habit, and Paola’s mind still works through evidence in a scientific manner, but she’s a lot more open to believing in the impossible. When you know for a fact that ghosts and hell dimensions are real, it’s hard to ignore them.
The end of River of Tears was hopeful—Paola had accepted her reality and vowed to be a better person as she worked through it—but the beginning of Forest of Nightmares shows us that hope doesn’t always bring about the right kind of change.
Her mom has a new boyfriend, and she’s not really talking to her two best friends. Emma has a new group of friends, and Paola doesn’t feel comfortable inserting herself into a space that’s not totally made for her. Meanwhile, Dante refuses to talk about anything that happened over the summer.
But Pao is simply bursting at the seams to discuss it. She’s not trying to be annoying—she just needs to process it, to prove that it was real. And of course she’d want to do that with Dante.
But something else is going on, and Dante keeps pushing her further away. I have to admit, this was the most frustrating part of the book for me. Dante’s reasons never felt good enough. If they were as close as he had once purported them to be, then he’d take the time to listen to Pao.
As it is, we find out that Dante’s got a lot more on his shoulders (and in his mind) than we ever thought he did. There’s a reason why he’s acting the way he is, and even though I understand, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
On the plus side, though we barely got to know her in River of Tears, Emma plays a much bigger role in this book. She’s rich and white and doesn’t have the same life experiences as Paola, but she channels her privilege into helping her friends.
Sure, sometimes it comes off as a bit silly or over-the-top, but it’s the thought that counts, and Paola does appreciate it. Plus, I think this is a good character for young white children to see, for a number of different reasons. Here’s to hoping it opens up a chance for parents to talk to their children about the world’s inequities.
Stand tall, Paola
One of the main reasons why I was excited to write this Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares book review was because it gave me a chance to talk about the biggest lesson this novel will instill in the children (and the adults!) who read it.
As Paola struggles with who she is, she’s caught between someone who’s so scientific she borders on clinical, as well as someone who feels as though she could be a hero, if only the world would give her the chance.
Paola’s flaws can and do hurt the people around her, even if she doesn’t mean for them to. At his lowest, Dante uses this to fire back at her and make her feel bad for the type of person she’s become.
It would be easy for Pao to shrink in the face of these insults—and she occasionally does—but over the course of the book, she’s forced to decide what kind of person she wants to be, despite the consequences she may face.
What an incredible lesson for us all to learn. Paola decides not to diminish herself for the comfort of other people. It’s radical self-acceptance, and it’s something that even full-grown adults have trouble doing.
We should all be way more concerned about embodying the person we want to be and not the person other people will accept. It might mean you lose some friends along the way, but what kind of friend would set impossible expectations for you? What kind of friend would want you to be anyone but yourself?
As I said in my River of Tears review, Paola is an incredibly vibrant character, and I’m glad Mejia doubled-down on that. What I would’ve given to see a character like this when I felt like I was being too much or that my friends didn’t accept me for the person I wanted to be.
This is something I still struggle with as an adult, and I never expected for a reminder like this to come in the form of a children’s book, but I’m here for it!
I promised I wouldn’t spoil anything in this Paola Santiago and the Forest of Nightmares book review, and I’m sticking to my word! Suffice it to say that the ending is quite climatic, and you’ll be dying to pick up the next book.
River of Tears ended with most of the story wrapped up, even as a few questions lingered. Forest of Nightmares, however, definitely ends with a cliffhanger, and even though it gave us some answers, Paola’s still got a lot of unfinished business to attend to.
She’ll be conducting that business in the third and final book, Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows. That certainly sounds ominous, and considering how this book sets up what’s to come, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just as dark as the name implies.
I can’t wait to see what Paola does next, especially as she continues to accept who she is and how she wants to give back to the world. Her love of science hasn’t diminished, but now she has an arsenal of weapons (both intellectual and physical) that she can use to help other people.
Once again, her life has been turned upside down, but this time, Paola seems ready to go with the flow. There will undoubtedly be some major adjustments in her future, but she’s been around the block twice now. She’s got this.
Hopefully Sanctuary of Shadows will give us even more Emma. I also desperately want Paola and Dante’s relationship to be redeemed. I want this trio back on good terms where they belong. Together, they’re so powerful, and I want them all to have a happy future ahead of them.