It was a little over a year ago when Cemetery Boys, the debut novel by Aiden Thomas, came out. It was a book I was looking forward to, but although I bought it pretty quickly, I’ve held off on reading it. Until now, that is. This seemed like the perfect book for early October: both to honor Latinx Heritage Month and to kick off spooky season before Halloween (or rather, Dia de los Muertos!).
|Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas|
|Setting||Los Angeles, California, USA|
|Number of Pages||344|
|Format I Read||Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||September 1, 2020|
A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave.
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.
I was excited to read Cemetery Boys, and I must say, it lived up to the hype. It’s fun and adventurous, magical and mysterious, and also wholesome and heartwarming. It packs in a lot and was a perfect read for both Latinx Heritage Month and spooky season.
The action starts right away. Yadriel is transgender, and his family is having a hard time accepting his gender. This also leads to a denial of him as a brujo. He should have gone through his quinces ceremony when he was 15, but his family thinks it won’t work due to his gender identity. Now 16, Yadriel is taking matters into his own hands. He’ll prove himself to be a brujo by going through the quinces on his own. With the help of his cousin Maritza, Yadriel goes through his quinces, gaining his brujo powers. But right away, something is wrong: His cousin, Miguel, has been killed.
Yadriel’s family doesn’t want him to help finding his missing dead cousin, but that doesn’t deter him. He and Martiza end up finding some clues, so Yadriel uses his new brujo power to summon Miguel’s ghost… but that’s not Miguel he summoned. It’s a teenager from his school, Julian.
From here, Cemetery Boys turns into a fun mystery. Yadriel has to keep Julian a secret from his family, sneaking him in and out of his house. Together with Maritza, the three of them also need to make sure Julian’s friends are okay; they had been with him when he was murdered. Finding his body is another matter, plus the fact that no one has been able to find the body or spirit of Miguel yet, either. Very suspicious. Since they both died so close together, is it possible that Miguel’s and Julian’s deaths are related?
I loved Nancy Drew growing up, so I’m always happy to read mysteries; even better if those mysteries involve the supernatural, like ghosts and demons. In this regard, Cemetery Boys completely fits the bill, taking me back to my adolescence. However, it also offers a lot of additional depth, touching on themes I never saw in Nancy Drew.
First, I love the examination of Yadriel’s transgender identity and how he navigates that with his family and classmates. He faces some transphobia and resistance regarding certain things. Some family members deadname him or occasionally use the wrong pronouns. They prevent him from going through the ceremony of becoming a brujo, thinking he could only have been a bruja. We also see some of the more personal details; for example, Yadriel wears a binder. I always appreciate seeing transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming characters, and this book offers excellent representation with warmth and nuance.
We also get to see how this dovetails with queer sexualities. Yadriel is trans and gay. The ghost he’s summoned, Julian, is also gay. Again, it’s great to see diverse representation of people (and ghosts!) within the LGBTQ+ community.
Cemetery Boys dives into other issues, too. Family dynamics are a big one. In Yadriel’s case, we see how he and his dad grieve the loss of his mom less than a year ago. Julian’s family is more complicated: His mom left when he was young, his dad is dead, and Julian has since been taken care of by his older brother. Julian also brings forth some themes of found family and caring for those who are otherwise alone. His friends come from broken homes. Some have lost family members to deportation; some have been kicked out of the home due to their identity; some are abused by their parents. It’s sad to see these teenagers facing such hardships, but it’s also heartwarming to see how Julian and his brother try to help.
Although Yadriel and Julian have very different personalities and energy levels (Yadriel is fairly quiet and studious; Julian is super energetic, easily distracted, and quick to anger), it’s nice to see how they grow close. With some forced proximity, they open up to each other and offer new perspectives on issues they each face. It’s cute to see them develop friendship… and maybe something more.
Eventually, Cemetery Boys leads up to an exciting climax. I will say, I saw a twist or two coming, and I was pleased when I was proven right. But there was another twist I hadn’t anticipated but quite enjoyed. I’ll say no more about that, but just know that you’re in for an action-packed and empowering ending.
Cemetery Boys is a lot of fun, but it’s also wholesome and eye-opening. Although it’s a YA novel, adults can certainly find enjoyment here, too. It’s a wonderful debut, and I look forward to reading more from Aiden Thomas in the coming years.
About the Author
Aiden Thomas is a trans, Latinx, New York Times Bestselling Author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.