Book Review & Author Interview: Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo

Don’t forget to pay the Piper…”

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Publisher: Agora Books

Price: $26 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When Detective Lauren Medina sees the calling card at a murder scene in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, she knows the Pied Piper has returned. When another teenager is brutally murdered at the same lagoon where her sister’s body was found floating years before, she is certain that the Pied Piper is not just back, he’s looking for payment he’s owed from her. Lauren’s torn between protecting the city she has sworn to keep safe, and keeping a promise she made long ago with her sister’s murderer. She may have to ruin her life by exposing her secrets and lies to stop the Pied Piper before he collects.

Grade: A

Review:

I decided to dive into Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago with no notion of the plot summary. I recently had read her harrowing true-crime poetry collection, Into the Forest and All the Way Through, as well as her short stories featured in the female driven anthology she edited with Gemma Amour and Laurel Hightower, We Are Wolves, and decided that I would take a leap of faith. I never could’ve been happier with my choice. I’m an avid reader of fairytales and the fact that Children of Chicago expertly weaves the fairytale of The Pied Piper and giving it a Candyman angle, made it a very intriguing read. The writing is both lush and concise, allowing the reader to be emerged in the Chicagoan city life as well as the dark realms of the fairytale forest. It’s a deep dive into darkness and for readers of horror, you will love this.

We follow homicide detective Lauren Medina who’s tasked with trying to figure out who is killing the teens of Chicago, in a city, notorious for its bloody past and violent present. Reality fuses with the supernatural and the reader is never certain if we’re witnessing true events or if the characters are simply victims of a mass hysteria.

The novel is part police procedural and part supernatural horror with hints of magical realism all coming to head with a very explosive truth about the protagonist that will leave readers reevaluating everything that’s happened throughout the novel. Fast-paced and eerily dark, Children of Chicago is the perfect winter read.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Agora Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

SHORT Q & A WITH AUTHOR:

I’m a huge fan of fairytales so reading the novel, this really drew me in. There are so many fairytales to choose from, and of course the Brother Grimms are the most popular, but what exactly drew you to the tale of the Pied Piper and why is he the bad guy in the novel?

It’s very odd, but I usually get an image for my stories before I start writing them and I had an image of a man in a black suit and a black top hat standing outside of a hospital waiting to whisk a small child away. That was all I had. Ultimately that image didn’t make it into the novel, but that’s where his story started. Then I started thinking about who he was. Why was he dressed in such old-fashioned clothes and why did he want to take a child? For a long time I thought maybe he was Slenderman, but that wasn’t quite right. Then the Slenderman stabbing happened in Wisconsin in 2014 and I put the story away in my head, because it just felt like it was in bad taste to continue on with the story during that tragedy.

I had taken courses in my MFA in Writing specifically on fairy tales, and so I have a lot of fairy tale books, and just a fascination with them and their history. It probably was not until I started going back to those books and reading them to my children that I found the Pied Piper again and it clicked. The man in the black suit was the Pied Piper and he wanted to lure the children of Chicago away. Then from there, it was just a manic rush to write the story while it was fresh in my head.

There are some accounts that claim that part of the Pied Piper story is true, to an extent, that children were led away from the town of Hamelin and they never returned. So, I wanted to speak to that tragedy, of this mysterious figure with only ill intent to destroy a society by taking away what was most precious to them, their children.

I also discovered that it wasn’t just the Pied Piper that needed to be weaved into the story, but much of the foundation of fairy tale lore, and other fairy tales, because so many fairy tales are based on some small, and gruesome, truth.

Chicago is as much a character in the novel as also the setting. What made you pick Chicago as the setting as opposed to any other big city instead?

I live in inner city Chicago. Not in the suburbs. Not in a fancy neighborhood in the city, but in a regular working class neighborhood in the city, with a high immigrant population, and a high poverty rate. I went to college, have a great professional career, but it was important for me to stay in the community that raised me, and what I later discovered was that Walt Disney was born just a few blocks away from me in a wooden house. L. Frank Baum who wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz wrote parts of that legendary book at the park that I have frequented my entire life. So, it was magical to learn that in my neighborhood, comprised of regular people, that magic was made here.

In addition to that, I can’t ignore the violence of the city that I grew up with, and that I live with still. So, there’s this strange dichotomy, a city that was founded on a lake and that has been home to creative legends that gifted us wonderful works of art, but a city that is plagued by violence, and historically has been plagued by violence – its founding was based on violence.

I wanted to then showcase this place where I live and love and to tell people that Chicago is the prime location for a dark fairy tale.

I feel that Children of Chicago can be read as a fairytale, meaning that most original fairytales served as cautionary tales. I feel that in the novel, we’re cautioned not to put our faith in supernatural entities because the price you have to pay may be bigger than you expect. And yet, I feel like humans tend to lean towards the supernatural if even on a low-key base such as sharing chainletters or keeping lucky charms or totems to ward off evil. Why is that?

Yes, I really would love if people read it as a fairy tale about fairy tales. There’s a lot that I was hoping to accomplish that I hope the careful reader catches on to, like my mentions of other fairy tales, and fairy tale devices, Chicago history and how I tried to hold a mirror up to the city and show the city its beauty, but its cruelty as well.

What I was hoping to communicate with the payment is due aspect of the story is that whatever energy you put out into the universe is the type of energy you are going to receive. If you are putting out negative energy, that is the energy that will return to you and serve you. I’m pretty spiritual and part of my path teaches me that we are all one consciousness, you, me, everyone. So, if I do or wish harm to someone else then I am doing or wishing harm to myself.

We turn to the supernatural for protections for a variety of reasons, religion, faith, but ultimately for the belief that the supernatural can shift our experiences and reality. For example, with regards to violence and harm, these things can sometimes be random, or there are people who just live in toxic situations or places. They turn to these things for the hope that the supernatural can guide them to a safer position.

I believe people need to do what gives them comfort, as long as it is not harming anyone, with regards to owning supernatural devices. However, I want to stress to anyone reading that if you are in a violent or harmful environment then please seek help and do so in a safe manner.

I also believe our words and actions are spells. I believe in being positive and speaking positively so that this is the type of energy we are granted.

This is a loaded question, but what is your favorite fairytale and why?

I love this question.

I love so many of them, but the one that I think about often and have written about is Hansel and Gretel.

It’s about the cruelty that can be done to us by those that are meant to love and protect us, and the tragedy of even when you find what you think is safety you aren’t really safe. There is betrayal. Ultimately, it shows that the only person you can trust is really and truly yourself, or in this case little brother and little sister who trust and save each other in the fairy tale. Hansel and Gretel teaches us that no one in the outside world can ever truly be trusted.

Humans often have motives that are beyond cruel, they are deadly.

What are you currently working on and do you have any other releases on the horizon?

I’m working on a middle grade novel I’m hoping to finish and get to my agent in a few days. I’m also working on a novella I hope to deliver in June. I’m not sure when that will be published but I will announce that soon. Then, I am working on the sequel to the “Chicago fairy tale series” which is not really a sequel to Children of Chicago but another fairy tale that takes place in the city. I also have a few short stories I’m working on. I’ve been very busy but it’s a great kind of busy and I am grateful for all of these creative opportunities.

AUTHOR BIO:

Cynthia “Cina” Pelayo is the author of LOTERIA, SANTA MUERTE, THE MISSING, and POEMS OF MY NIGHT, all of which have been nominated for International Latino Book Awards. POEMS OF MY NIGHT was also nominated for an Elgin Award. Her recent collection of poetry, INTO THE FOREST AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH explores true crime, that of the epidemic of missing and murdered women in the United States. Her modern day horror retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale, CHILDREN OF CHICAGO will be released by Agora Books on 2/9/21. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, a Master of Science in Marketing, a Master of Fine Arts in Writing, and is a Doctoral Candidate in Business Psychology. Cina was raised in inner city Chicago, where she lives with her husband and children. Find her online at www.cinapelayo.com and on Twitter @cinapelayo.

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