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  • Writer's pictureMandy McHugh

Children of Chicago, Cynthia Pelayo: A Review

Children of Chicago has been on my most-anticipated list since I first read about it on Twitter. I absolutely adored Pelayo's crime poetry collection (Into the Forest and All the Way Through), and after reading the synopsis, I was thrilled to be approved for this title. Out in February 2021, but I could not wait that long to start reading.

Detective Lauren Medina is grieving the loss of her father when a young girl is found dead. In and of itself, this is tragic but not unheard of. The city is no stranger to violence. What Medina finds concerning is a piece of graffiti in close proximity to the body. PIED PIPER, it reads, and while her new partner believes this to be another tagger making a name for himself, Medina suspects there's something more to it. She's seen this before, in her own tragedy, and as more kids wind up dead, Medina dives headfirst into a world of myths and legends. Fairy tales, it seems, may be more than stories told to children to teach them lessons. Sometimes, they are alive, and they are hungry. I loved this book. As a protagonist, Lauren is one of the most authentic voices I've read in a long time. She's passionate and smart and driven yet deeply troubled. I wouldn't say flawed--that word doesn't quite encompass the layers of turmoil she struggles with--but hurt by multiple things in her past and aware not only of the damage that has been done, but her own walls she constructs to compartmentalize and protect herself. At times sarcastic and lighthearted and others gritty and raw, Lauren is a strong character demanding to be heard. The plot, too, I found fast-paced and engrossing. The Pied Piper is as exciting as he is terrifying, and there are a few choice moments that will squeeze the bravery right out of you. Pelayo breathes fresh life into this well-known classic. I'd go so far as to say this isn't a retelling, but a studied portrait of oral tradition and its effects on culture. There are some truly fascinating details here, and I think this will appeal to a wide variety of readers, both literary and leisure. At its core, this felt like a complex and honest love letter to Chicago. An infamous city with centuries of history, Pelayo gives us both the good and the bad, the magic and the murder. We see Walt Disney and H.H. Holmes. We see fairy tales, but we also see monsters. We see a city plagued with crime and gangs and hardships--but we also see concerned neighbors. Small kindnesses. Every day acts of decency that are as much a part of Lauren's story as her work in homicide. Overall, Children of Chicago is a taut, thrilling, insightful read with more than a story to tell. Trust me when I say this is one you don't want to miss. Huge thanks to Polis Books and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.


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