Review: Cemetery Boys

Published September 1st 2020, 352 pages

Author: Aiden Thomas

A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys, described by Entertainment Weekly as “groundbreaking.”

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true 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 off 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.

A capital-H for Heartwarming doesn’t even begin to describe this novel. This book seriously was one the best reads this year for me. I devoured it in less than a day and was sad to reach the end as I just wanted it to keep going. My only negative is that Cemetery Boys is such a misnomer as the title is missing a key female character – maybe Cemetery Boys and Girl (?) – I honestly can’t even put that as a true negative though as this book was that good.  Kudos to this author as I not only got to read a fantastic story, but I got to learn a ton about the Brujx community and culture.

Yadriel is a 16-year-old trans boy who lives in East Los Angeles in a cemetery with his family. They guard the cemetery and guide spirits as part of their Brujx culture. As Yadriel was born a girl, he should be a bruja and go the healing route. However, Yadriel is a boy and believes he has the right to be a brujo. The struggles Yadriel faces with his family and culture is fantastically written and was a true joy to read. Yadriel successfully goes through the brujo ritual with Lady Death and obtains brujo abilities. However, he still has to convince his family that he is a brujo and somehow prove it to them. He passes his first “test” as a brujo when he accidentally summons a spirit – the only problem is the spirit is not ready to go to the afterlife yet.

Our spirit (not ghost – as that’s derogatory) is Julian Diaz, a handsome schoolmate who Yadriel remembers seeing sometimes around campus, who recently passed away without any memory of what happened to him.  He forms a bond with Yadriel and becomes the friend and partner that he didn’t even know he was looking for. These two make an incredible pair and that complement each other well and make you constantly root for them. The two of them are aided by a non-practicing bruja, due to being vegan, Maritza, who is an essential part of the team. She was incredible character who was super supportive and just an overall delight.

The writing itself is easy to understand and gives the reader its own cultural lessons on the Brujx culture. There are some phrases that are written in Spanish and aren’t translated, but are extremely easy to understand in context. If you happen to know what the Spanish says, then you just a little more from the story. (Again, Spanish is not necessary to truly love the writing.) The novel does start off a little slower, but picks up fairly quickly and keeps you interested until the end and beyond.

There are two plots that are going on in this novel. The first is the mysterious disappearance/death of Yadriel’s cousin Miguel and then Julian’s journey to be prepared to go into the afterlife while completely Yadriel’s path into becoming a full brujo. Everything ties in together nicely and one piece of the puzzle doesn’t take away from another. The story keeps your interest as you delve into the pages and are anxious to learn more. There are guesses along the way to what the final conclusion would be and you, as the reader, come up with theories. I figured out the main mystery fairly quickly, which usually means I lose some interest in reading, however, this novel just made me want to keep going – easily I could’ve read thousands more pages if they were as captivating as the ones already written.

The characters are teenagers and are very realistic and relatable. Easily they say and act in ways that I can picture either myself or my friends saying or doing when we were their ages. The romance fits for teenagers while still being captivating enough to an adult audience. Their romance blooms naturally and doesn’t feel forced. There’s an anime called Ginban Kaleidoscope and this novel reminded me of that show. In the show, a ghost accompanies a figure skater and they slowly build a romance. It was a heart-warming show to watch and reading this novel brought back the happiness felt when I watched that show years ago.

Overall, I can’t say enough good points about this novel – well I could, but I most likely would spoil every detail and ending. This book lives up to the hype and I cannot wait until 2021 when this author releases their next book.  There are moments of joy, pain, laughter, and sorrow as you travel through the pages led by a cast of endearing characters that are all likeable. Even the background characters all played their parts and I couldn’t find faults with any of them. There are ones I obviously liked more than the others, but I couldn’t imagine the story without them. I highly recommend this novel as it’s one I could easily read again and again!

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