by Aiden Thomas
A trans boy determined to prove he’s a brujo to his Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s paranormal YA debut.
Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
Bestowed by the ancient goddess of death, Yadriel and the gifted members of his Latinx community can see spirits: women have the power to heal bodies and souls, while men can release lost spirits to the afterlife. But Yadriel, a trans boy, has never been able to perform the tasks of the brujas – because he is a brujo.
When his cousin suddenly dies, 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 not his cousin. It’s Julian Diaz, the resident bad boy of his high school, 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.
I will die on the ‘3 stars is a good rating’ hill, but that doesn’t make 3 star reviews any easier to write.
Yadriel is a trans boy from a long line of brujas and brujos who have a duty to perform the abilities granted to their ancestors by Lady Death herself. Brujas have the ability to heal, while brujos have the task of guiding lost souls to the afterlife before they become a danger to others. As a trans boy, however, Yadriel is struggling to prove to his family that he is a brujo. The one person he relied on most, his mother, is no longer among the living. When he takes things into his own hands to prove himself, he accidentally summons the ghost of Julian Diaz – a very recently deceased boy from his high school – and finds himself having to help Julian check on his friends, and try to find his own missing cousin, before he puts Julian to rest.
I love the world-building and the lore in this novel. Cemetery Boys is such a celebration of Latinx culture and traditions, and it’s yet another reminder that I need to reach for more and more Latinx stories by own voices writers. I’d happily read more stories following other members of this family because the lore was one of my favourite things about this novel, and it’s another YA novel that I think would make a wonderful film.
It’s also a reminder that I need to reach for far more trans stories–particularly stories written by trans authors–and Yadriel’s journey for acceptance was one of the things I loved most about this particular story.
As a cis woman I can’t comment on the authenticity of Yadriel’s experience, but considering Aiden Thomas is trans I trust that their trans readers will identify with the challenges Yadriel faces. If you are trans it’s worth noting that Cemetery Boys does include the odd scene where members of Yadriel’s family outright deny his identity; I think Thomas handled these instances so well and incredibly sensitively, but it’s worth noting just in case that’s something you’d like to prepare yourself for.
Something I loved, however, was that the odd time when someone used Yadriel’s deadname it was only ever referred to as his deadname, so we never hear the name itself. Yadriel is only ever Yadriel, and I loved how he was able to claim his identity throughout the narrative in that way.
I also really appreciated how often the characters in this book were allowed to speak Spanish. The language is used so unapologetically, as it should be, and Thomas incorporated it into the book in such a way that people who don’t understand the language, like me, could still understand what was being said without writing a direct translation.
I have to admit, though, that while I enjoyed this book and I think the representation is so very needed, I didn’t love Cemetery Boys as much as I expected to, and I’m very sad about it. Something was missing for me. Unfortunately I guessed who the villain was a few chapters in – this didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the novel, but I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t as surprised as I could have been – and there were a few times when the humour didn’t quite work for me. Within the same scene that Yadriel and his cousin, Maritza, discover Julian, for example, Maritza’s calling him ‘Casper’ and making jokes despite the fact that they’ve just discovered a teenage boy who’s been murdered.
On a more general note, I don’t think I gelled with Thomas’s writing style very much and, while I loved the world-building, all of their characters felt a little too flat for me. There are the bones of a fantastic novel here – and plenty of other readers do love it, so I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here – the bones just weren’t quite enough to completely satisfy me. Yadriel and Julian are very cute, but I feel like I’ve finished this novel still not knowing all that much about them.
All that aside, this is not a book with me – a 29-year-old, white, British, cis woman – in mind, and Cemetery Boys is ultimately a fun read and a much-needed addition to Halloween stories for Latinx and trans teens alike.