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

Review copy provided by the publisher.

When I saw that there was a sequel to Paola Santiago and the River of Tears coming out, I couldn’t request it fast enough. Pao and her friends had exciting, fun adventures, and I was excited to rejoin them.

As often happens, the sequel goes to a somewhat darker, more grown-up place. In many cases when people discuss a fantasy novel and say “darker,” they mean that the fantasy tropes are more horror-tinged, scarier, but the first volume of this series was pretty dark for a kids’ fantasy–the titles are giving you accurate information that the fluffy bunny content here is fairly minimal. But for me, the thing that gets darker and more mature is not actually the fantasy element, which is pretty consistent. It’s the friendship element: Paola’s relationships with her best friends have grown rather fraught, and all is not well between them in ways that are more complicated than the spats of the first book.

Which makes me squirm. And this is very much a middle book: if you’re looking for clear resolution and absolute redemption, this is not the book for it. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for lots of growth and characters figuring out interesting things and the author getting to play with a larger scope than she started with–plenty of Arizona desert, now heading into California and up to Oregon, with the legends to accompany–this may be your jam. It was mine.

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