Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
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Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
One part murder mystery, one part paranormal romance.
When Yadriel’s cousin suddenly dies and his spirit is nowhere to be found, it seems like the perfect opportunity for Yadriel to prove he’s a brujo to his family. They’ve not yet learned to accept that he’s trans, and this would make it clear once and for all that he’s not a girl.
But things get complicated when Yadriel summons the wrong ghost. Now, with the help of Maritza, Yadriel’s cousin and best friend, and Julian, the bad boy turned ghost boy, Yadriel must turn down new paths to find out what happened to his murdered cousin. It doesn’t help that no one else in his family has managed to learn anything about his cousin’s disappearance, though, and to make matters even more confusing, he might just be developing feelings for the ghost he’s supposed to set free once all the answers are clear.
Last Yadriel checked, being a real brujo wasn’t supposed to be this complicated.
Cemetery Boys is full of heart down to the very last page!
I could go on and on about this book. Really, I could. If I did, though, I’m not sure I’d ever finish this review in a timely manner, and it’s technically already late.
The short version, though? Aiden Thomas is a wizard at characterization. They’ve managed to give every character such a distinct voice, and more than that, they build up such strong, memorable personalities for their cast! I can’t think of a single character I disliked in terms of their development (though there are a couple I disliked for being terrible people). They’re all so rich on the page, so realistic and present. For a novel that focuses so closely on the dead, Cemetery Boys ends up bursting with life because of Aiden Thomas’s commitment to their characters!
Especially delightful to me are two things: the humor, and our core trio.
Where the humor is concerned, I’m in love with how earnest and corny it often is! After all, this is a book about a bunch of sixteen year old kids (or thereabouts). And anyone who’s been around kids that age knows they’re simultaneously the funniest people on the planet and also sometimes the most embarrassing. Somehow, this is captured perfectly, with natural banter as well as moments of stumbling awkwardness. And when the humor does lean towards the corny end of things, it does so with a delightful embrace, rather than a bit of distance that leaves it to fall flat. I caught myself grinning throughout the entire book, even during some of the tenser moments!
And as for Yadriel, Julian, and Maritza? Someone get these three a vacation. All three are incredibly capable kids, each with their own strengths. Yadriel is particularly dedicated and brave, holding his course and trying to do the right thing, even when the odds stand against him. Julian is absolutely bursting with heart, burning with such a fierce protectiveness that you can’t help but love him, even before you discover the side of him that’s akin to a very enthusiastic puppy. And Maritza carries herself with a sharp confidence, one that still balances well with compassion.
Together, they manage follow leads no one else has tried, and yet they also seem to share one brain cell between them at moments. It makes for a delightful set of dynamics, and a cast I’m wholly in love with!
This book is also a testament to a wealth of Latinx culture.
Yadriel’s family is made up of so many different cultural backgrounds, and it shows loud and clear throughout the book. As his family prepares for the Day of the Dead, all manner of clothes, food, and ofrenda practices are brought to the forefront, mixing into a vibrant celebration with common roots and a myriad of branches. No one background is set into competition with another, and the result is a brilliant, loving display of the heritage that makes Yadriel’s family and community what it is. Name a Latin American country, and odds are strong their traditions make their way into Cemetery Boys in one form or another. And yes, these traditions also are keenly aware of their indigenous roots!
What I really loved, though, was Yadriel’s approach to his family’s traditions. He’s caught walking a delicate line between loving the culture that’s shaped his life and being frustrated with it for failing to respect his identity, his future. It’s such a personal perspective, and written with such a heartfelt touch. It’s also the reason I ended up crying as I read the epilogue, and I’m not even much of a crier!
What can I say? I’m a sucker for stories that acknowledge the conflict between tradition and identity, especially when those two things are so inextricably linked.
The hype surrounding this book is 100% accurate.
If you haven’t read Cemetery Boys yet, there’s no better time than now. Or whenever you next find yourself reaching for a book. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s contained to a single book with an ending that wrings all the happy tears out of me without fail. And on top of all that, a brujo boy falls in love with a ghost boy, who just might be falling in love back.
Honestly, I don’t know what more you could ask for in a book. I’m not sure it’s even possible to ask for more.
Anyhow, the moral of the story today? Read Cemetery Boys. It’s worth every minute. ❤️
CW: loss of a loved one, self-harm (magic purposes), transphobia, misgendering, deadnaming (without revealing deadname), smoking mention, violence (including gun violence mention), child death mention, racism, child abuse, deportation, underage drinking mention, gore