Cynthia Pelayo's writing displays a wickedly delightful depth of folklore and fairy-tale knowledge ... Pelayo mines Chicago’s vicious vein for both maximum discomfort and extreme reading appeal ... Pelayo keeps the reader on their toes with a breathless pace and wonderful tension. We waver between concern, admiration, and horror as we trace Lauren’s movements: as she befriends Jordan, a key witness, by posing as a literacy coach; as she threatens violence against a young suspect. With a dynamic, complex opening, an unapologetic protagonist, and provocations from all directions, this novel is utterly gripping. The stakes of her little sister’s unsolved murder that echoes in the present are chillingly vivid, as well as the ominous figure that she sometimes senses or fears that she actually sees. The city is also a marvelous backdrop, with architectural literary anecdotes woven into the lurid present. Pelayo’s depictions of Chicago create a formidable character in itself, from the evocative description of buildings with fantastical elements to parks as brooding and ominous as the Black Forest ... Some minor quibbles: We are given names of characters to hang in our minds, but rarely descriptions. I had little sense of what each character looked like ... Nevertheless, this is an utterly compulsive read.
Author Cynthia Pelayo is a Chicago native, and a poet as well as a novelist. Her love for Chicago is woven throughout the story, expressed both as sadness about its problems and pride in its resilience. Local landmarks and history are lovingly detailed, and enhance rather than get in the way of the story. Fairy tales feature prominently. They drive the plot forward and their role in childhood storytelling is compellingly explained. Lauren is a compelling protagonist, angry and hurt – perhaps beyond redemption. Pelayo uses her story to ask how much can and adult be responsible for what they did as a child and how much should be forgiven ... Children of Chicago is equal parts thriller and horror, occupying the same space as the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris or Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, and this novel is equally worthy of your time.
[A] hybrid narrative that brings together the best elements of horror and crime fiction in a retelling of the Pied Piper fairy tale. Set in present-day Chicago and dealing with topics like crime and childhood trauma, Children of Chicago is a literary bridge between contemporary storytelling and the lingering effects of classic narratives that have seeped into the collective consciousness ... Pelayo does many things right in this novel. This is clearly a horror story with crime elements, but it’s also a love letter to Chicago, simultaneously delving deep into the city’s dark history and also celebrating its artists, buildings, public transportation, and residents. More importantly, Pelayo shines a light on the plethora of narratives that have a connection to the city while adding her name to the list of notable local authors in the process ... The second element that deserves attention in Children of Chicago is character development. Even the secondary characters are nuanced and have complete lives and unique voices ... Pelayo takes the supernatural horror in the pages of Children of Chicago and mixes it in with some of the most horrific real stories the city’s history has to offer.