Cemetery Boys is a YA urban fantasy book about Yadriel, a trans Latinx boy who is trying to find a way to be his authentic self as a brujo, even when his family is struggling to understand. He has the chance to prove himself when cousin Miguel is killed — a brujo has the ability to summon spirits and, if need be, force them to cross from the living to the dead. Yadriel and his friend Maritza work to summon his cousin’s spirit, and it works! Sort of. Not really. Instead of Miguel, Yadriel summoned one of his classmates that was killed the same night as Miguel — Julian, the resident “bad boy.” Now not only does Yadriel have to figure out what happened to his cousin, but he also has to help Julian find out what happened to him. And…start to fall for him? Uh oh.
Has anyone recommend this to me? More like who hasn’t recommended Cemetery Boys, lol. This book has exploded over the past year — especially during lockdown last year, damn — and if I’m being honest? It is 100% deserved! My expectations going in were already pretty high, but they were blown out of the water. I think I’d go so far as to say that Aiden Thomas may be a new favorite author of mine. He just has an amazing way of writing characters, their complexities, and their relationships with one another. It’s simply amazing!
The writing is — how do you say? — *chef’s kiss*.
Seriously, though, I thought it’s was great. It was quick and tight, which helped the story move along. It never really seemed to drag on all that much, and even though it did seem to be a bit on the nose at times, I still thought it was strong overall.
Let me be clear, though: while it was fast-paced, it was not rushed. While there were some plot points that probably could’ve been developed more (the murder mystery aspect is stuck on the back burner for a good share of the last half, let’s be honest), I thought that it did a great job at giving time to develop the characters and the relationships between them all.
Very specifically, the party scene with Julian and Yadriel at the beach party? It was simply phenomenal. I could feel what they were feeling, thinking, doing. It gave me chills. I truly loved that scene, and I thought it really showcased Thomas’ skill.
And honestly? It made me cry (or at least, as close as I wanted to get to crying while at work, lol). And we all know any book that can make me cry has an A+ story in my book. So there’s that, lol.
Like I said before, Cemetery Boys is about Yadriel, a trans brujo trying to prove himself to his family, as he and his friend Maritza try to figure out how his cousin Miguel was killed…along with Julian, resident high school bad boy, because they accidentally summoned the wrong spirit.
I thought, overall, it was a wonderful story. It wasn’t super slow, but it wasn’t rushed, either. While it did seem to tip more towards Yadriel and Julian’s budding relationship, especially in the second half, I still thought the murder mystery aspect was still a lot of fun!
The murder mystery conflict — both for Miguel and Julian — was interesting in its own right. It seemed to have a bit of slow start and took a back seat for a bit to give Yadriel and Julian time to connect, but it was still intriguing, especially near the end.
Speaking of, that climax? Holy shit, y’all, it was freaking amazing. The twist in and of itself wasn’t surprising for me — I figured out pretty early on that a particular character was going to do something — but oof, the emotion that went into it? That’s what had me in tears near the end. It was so, so good, and I absolutely love Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian.
Overall, I thought the plot was a lot of fun. I loved the focus on Yadriel and Julian’s relationship (the shift from full names to nicknames in the narrative had me screaming, omg), but the mystery plot was nicely done, too.
Is it appropriate to just leave a screaming gif and leave it at that? Probably not, but that’s how I feel, lol. I loved everything about the characters (except for, well, maybe one, but I’ll get a bit into that later).
I’m going to start with my two sons, Yadriel and Julian. Can fictional characters be your children if they’re only six or seven years younger than you? My younger siblings, then. Or maybe we just forgo the weird “let’s make these fictional beings appear real” thing that we all seem to do in bookish spaces, and I’ll say I love their characters so, so much.
Yadriel is a young trans boy that wants his family to accept who he is and actively embrace him as a brujo. He’s driven to solve Miguel’s murder and, along the way, help Julian find out who his murderer was, too. I found his Mexican and Cuban culture(s) interwoven throughout the story refreshing, and though I probably missed some nuance, I thought it was wonderful to read about.
On top of that, I didn’t realize how anxious he was as a person until about halfway through, when he had to bring Julian with him to school. Can I just say that anxious Character A and off-the-walls Character B is one of my favorite pairings, so when I found it here, I did a lil happy dance as I was reading.
I also just…really love the complicated feelings he has towards his family. He loves them unconditionally, on the one hand, but on the other hand, he is So Tired of having to claw out any sort of validation or respect for him and his trans identity. It’s not that his family members are being purposely transphobic in trying to push him out of the duties of a brujo, but it stings just the same.
And then we have Julian. The literal ride-or-die friend, his dedication to and love for his friends — his found family — is immense and amazing. He is such a good friend to everyone he lets in close, and I loved seeing him trying to care for them even when he was a spirit.
This includes Yadriel, too. The little things Julian would do or say to truly support Yadriel when he was struggling with his family and being trans almost made me start crying with how genuine he is as a character. The way he urges Yadriel to inch outside his comfort zone and try things out while respecting who he is in his totality was amazing. And oh, I don’t want to spoil it (and I won’t!), but there’s a bit during the climax where he says something to Yadriel, and I just start crying in the club (
Let’s not forget his sillier side, too. This boy is off the walls goofy, and I absolutely love him for it. He has little to no impulse control, just does whatever he thinks of in the moment and goes from there. Pair this with Yadriel, who may or may not have some Anxiety Issues, and you get perfection.
I also just really enjoyed all the side characters, too. I thought Maritza was interesting, and I loved seeing her and Yadriel interact (wish I saw more of it!). Now that I think about it, I think she may be one of the few vegan characters I know, which is pretty cool. Julian’s whole friend group were a delight, and seeing them stick together no matter what was great. Yadriel’s family, though they made me wince now and again, were still a major part of Yadriel, and I liked seeing the complexities between him and them. Just, overall, I loved all the characters in Cemetery Boys — I think Aiden did a wonderful job in fleshing them out and developing them over the course of the story.
Cemetery Boys takes place in East Los Angeles, where Yadriel lives with his family in a family-owned cemetery. The magic system — and the commentary behind it — was pretty interesting, and I wished I could see more of it throughout the story. From what I understand, it’s a gender-based magic system, where brujos are able to summon spirits and send them to the other side (voluntarily or otherwise) and brujas are able to heal wounds. When each kid in the family comes of age, they partake in a special ceremony where Lady Death gives them their abilities. Yadriel wasn’t allowed to partake in the brujo ceremony because his family believed that Lady Death wouldn’t see him as his gender.
It was interesting to see him try and navigate this gendered system throughout the book, and it made me wonder what would happen with non-binary folks who were neither men/boys or women/girls. Would it just be whatever the non-binary person was “closest” to? If so, wouldn’t that be inherently antagonistic towards non-binary people who don’t coincide with either binary gender? I found myself thinking about it a bit throughout the story, and I don’t remember it ever being touched on. It’s an interesting thought exercise nonetheless.
I will say, though, the mythology surrounding Lady Death and other mythological figures within the story was really intriguing. I loved learning about them, and I thought they were a great addition to really round-out the world-building.
There was so much good stuff shoved in this delight of a book, I loved it. One of the themes that really popped out to me was this notion of proving oneself. Throughout the book, Yadriel struggles with proving he’s a man to his family, that he deserves the title of brujo, because being seen as a man by his family is one of the most important things to him. He doesn’t want to sacrifice his family or himself, he wants to confidently have both.
However, there are multiple times that Julian tries to push against this, against proving one’s own intrinsic worth. If I remember correctly, he asks Yadriel a variation of “prove yourself to whom and why?” and tries to get him to see that he doesn’t need external validation from his family, and he shouldn’t have to try so hard if there are certain people in his life who are unwilling to rise up to the plate.
It’s a conflicting spot to be in for Yadriel, though. On the one hand, he hates having to “prove” who he is, that his family can’t simply accept and support him. He hates having this doubt that Lady Death would reject him as a brujo. But on the other, he loves his family and his culture. He wants to create a space for himself and others like him, and he wants his family’s love and acceptance. It’s not as simple as “drop them and leave” when he truly wants a place within his family that he can be proud of. This conflict is threaded throughout the story, and I love the way it ends up. No spoilers, but it’s definitely not a “everything is happiness and rainbows and absolutely perfect” ending.
On top of that, I’m always down for a good ol’ found family theme, and Julian and his friends really make it good. The relationships between one another, looking out for each other, everything. I absolutely loved meeting them, and I wish that if, for whatever reason, Aiden Thomas decides to make a sequel, we can see more of them.
I was also pleasantly surprised at Julian’s brother — their relationship is complicated, but I was so happy to see him look out for Julian and his friends, no matter what. He’s just trying his best to be a dad to a bunch of teenagers, and I love it. He gets a 10/10 from me.
In short, I had an amazing reading experience with Cemetery Boys. While the plot was engaging enough, I think it really shines with the characters and their relationships with one another (especially Yadriel and Julian, but the entire cast was intriguing in their own way). If you want a fun slow-burn supernatural romance with a dash of murder mystery on the side, I would definitely recommend Cemetery Boys!
- Transphobia, including deadnaming (the act of it; the deadname itself isn’t used) and misgendering
- Character death
- Mexican-Cuban gay trans boy MC
- Colombian achillean LI
- Trans and queer side characters
- Side characters of color
Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Pub. Date: 1 September 2020
Genre: Paranormal; Urban Fantasy
About (via StoryGraph):
“A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s New York Times-bestselling 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.”
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