Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents Tehlor Kay Mejia’s third chilling story based on Mexican folklore. This time Paola Santiago faces El Cucuy, aka the Boogeyman.
“Paola Santiago is a whip-smart Latina who dares to explore the shadows between folklore and middle-school friendship. A thrilling adventure.”–Nina Moreno, author of Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Paola Santiago has recently returned from Oregon, where she defeated the Hitchhiker ghost and saved her father from the vengeful spirit that was possessing him. The poor girl deserves a rest! But first she has to rescue Dante from the void, where he’s been imprisoned by some unknown force. Even though Dante has turned against Pao, she can’t just leave him there–they’ve been friends for too long.
Paola’s prophetic dreams seem to have dried up, so she has to find other ways to locate a new rift where she can enter the void. Signs point to Texas–but how is she going to get there from Arizona? It just so happens that Emma’s new group of politically active friends, the Rainbow Rogues, are planning a field trip to San Antonio. It’s the perfect ruse for Paola, if she can stand being with the judgmental girls for that many days. . . .
Relying on her wits, training from the Ninos de la Luz, and the emotional support of her best friend Emma, Pao makes it into the void. Once there she must face down not just one but two enemies: El Cucuy, the bogeyman . . . and someone even scarier who looks a lot like Pao herself.
This third exciting journey into Mexican folklore has our lovable, intrepid protagonist making discoveries both wonderous and fearsome.
Title: Paola Santiago and the Sanctuary of Shadows
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
“You got this, Pao!”
“Take him down!”
“On your left!”
Paola Santiago barely heard the noise of the small crowd as she faced down her opponent. He was already missing an arm, his head was tragically lopsided, and he moved in the jerky, unpredictable way Pao had come to associate with drunk people—or toddlers who really needed a nap.
Despite his erratic movements, Pao tightened her grip on her Arma del Alma, a long, shining staff with a viciously bladed end. Let your opponent come to you, said her father’s voice in her head. Let them expend their energy circling and crossing the space and striking. Be still water, ready to ripple or wave. Wasting nothing.
Her opponent had almost reached her, and every part of Pao screamed that she should strike now—leap across the space and finish the job of severing his wobbling head. But instead she waited like still water, until finally, finally she was allowed to rush forward and stab through the neck. Then she heard the satisfying crunch that meant his head had hit the ground.
Pao felt no remorse, only victory, as she lifted her sweaty face, pushed her bangs back, and waited for her well-deserved accolades.
“Someone get some tape, stat!”
Three Niños rushed past Pao in a blur as she groaned, sinking onto the concrete floor. Her magical staff was already shrinking of its own accord into a travel-size magnifying glass she could fit in her pocket.
“Well, I thought it was impressive,” said a voice from behind her, and Pao turned with a smile to see her best friend Emma Lockwood approaching with a water bottle, her eyes dancing with laughter.
“These milk drinkers wouldn’t know impressive if it cut off their heads,” Pao grumbled, taking the water gratefully and chugging half of it before dumping the rest on her sweaty neck.
“If you wanted the Niños to be on your side, you probably shouldn’t have named the sparring dummy,” Emma said as they surveyed the scene.
The ragtag group of kids and teenagers who called themselves Los Niños de la Luz were already on her side, Pao knew. And, as her town’s protectors against the monstrous creatures of the void, they were important allies to have.
Not just for their warehouse headquarters, either. Though it was pretty awesome. The rafters in its ceiling were nearly thirty feet above their heads. The glossy concrete floor was painted and taped with complicated diagrams of footwork, advances, and retreats, all color-coded according to types of creature. Best of all, it was in a part of town far from any prying eyes. Ideal for monster-hunting practice.
Of course, at the moment, the only creature in sight was an old dummy on a rolling cart. And he was currently missing a head.
“Patrick,” Pao said, rolling her eyes at her own folly. “What kind of a name is Patrick for a monster anyway?” “Hey, there are a lot of Patricks in the world,” Emma replied. “I’m sure at least some of them are monsters.”
Pao couldn’t argue with that, so she got to her feet and walked over to a section of school gym bleachers that her friend Naomi had “liberated” from Silver Springs High. Then she flopped down, her muscles burning from a long day of training.
“How do you feel?” Emma asked, her eyes x-raying Pao. They looked even bluer than usual against her pumpkin-orange sweatshirt. Despite the fact that it was still over a hundred degrees in Silver Springs, Emma was determined to show her fall spirit.
Pao thought about changing the subject to actual pumpkins, or costumes, or Halloween baking or crafts, all subjects she knew would distract the girl in front of her. But she’d never been able to lie to Emma, or avoid her questions for long, so she told the truth. As much of it as she could bear to say out loud, anyway.
“I’m frustrated,” she said, kicking her white sneakers against the bench. “I’m restless. I can take Patrick’s head off fifteen times a day, and it’s not gonna get us any closer to rescuing Dante.”
At the sound of their ex–best friend’s name, Emma went quiet for a moment, and Pao knew she was remembering things, too. Things like the trailer laboratory the two of them had found in the middle of the Oregon forest last winter. And the man inside, who’d been Pao’s long-lost father and not her father all at once.
Pao had told Emma everything, of course. All the gory details Emma hadn’t seen while she waited outside the trailer. About finding out La Llorona was not only the ghost-deity Pao had defeated in the void, she was also Pao’s grandmother!
That part had taken a little explaining. See, after drowning her three children in the river, La Llorona had found a way to bring them back to life by merging their souls with those of living victims. Her twisted experiment had only worked on her second son, Beto, which, Pao discovered, was her father’s true identity.
Only, the experiment (like most things La Llorona did) had gone pretty horribly wrong. Beto had run away in horror from his mother, changed his name, and tried to bury his past. But over time the soul his was bound to—a boy victim of La Llorona’s named Joaquin—started to become more dominant . . . and resentful.
Eventually, Joaquin had hatched a plan to use Pao’s connection to the void to tear open its fabric and let out every loathsome creature inside to feed on the living. Luring her to the forest by using Dante as bait . . .
Working with Beto, Pao had managed to free Joaquin’s soul, put an end to his awful plot, and get her friends back to safety. All except Dante, who, fed by his own jealousy and anger, had gone willingly into the void and remained there.
Even with the Niños’ centuries of knowledge about the void and its inhabitants, her father’s memories of Joaquin’s machinations, and Pao’s own growing desperation to smash her way into that terrible place by whatever means necessary, they still hadn’t managed to rescue him. It had already been eight months. “We’re going to find him,” Emma said at last, putting a hand on Pao’s shoulder. “You said yourself that whoever is keeping Dante wouldn’t want to give up the leverage they have over you by killing him, so it’s just a matter of—”
“Of finding a way in,” Pao said, almost to herself. She had fallen asleep repeating that truth to herself over and over every night since January. But the months kept going by, and Pao’s faith in her own understanding of the situation was flagging by the day.
Joaquin had told her, while tied to a chair in his trailer lab, that the void wanted her, La Llorona’s granddaughter, who had twice defied its soldiers, who had snatched three living souls from its depths and was determined to take a fourth. But if the void wanted her so bad, why hadn’t it shown her how to enter it again? Why wasn’t it using Dante to lure her back?
She hadn’t had a single vision of its ghost-riddled depths since she’d returned from Oregon. Not one. And she couldn’t help but wonder why her dreams, the connection that had allowed her to save her friends and family before, had deserted her now, at this crucial juncture.
Though Pao didn’t exactly want to be the descendent of an evil ghost woman who had drowned countless children, or to belong, in part, to the spooky, monster-ridden place that had given her power, she couldn’t help feeling a little abandoned.
Not that she could ever admit that to Emma. Or anyone else. “It’s my dad, mostly,” Pao said when the silence had stretched out a beat longer than she could stand. “He wants to act like I’m just this normal kid, like I shouldn’t be getting involved with paranormal stuff, even though I saved his life by getting involved with it. I wish he would just let me be who I am.”
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.
1 winner will receive a finished copy of PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE SANCTUARY OF SHADOWS, US Only.
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