Cemetery Boys: A heart-warming coming-of-age tale

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsCemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Yadriel’s Latinx community in East Los Angeles practices brujería. The men are brujos who escort ghosts to their final resting place and the women are brujas who have healing powers. But Yadriel’s large close family has not supported his desire to be a brujo because he is transgender. Their community has strict gender roles, they don’t see him as a boy, and they don’t think the brujo magic will work for him (though the women’s bruja magic definitely doesn’t work for Yadriel).

Yadriel is determined to prove not only that he is a boy, but that he can be a brujo, too. Only his cousin Maritza believes in him and is willing to help Yadriel become a brujo so, together, without the rest of their family, they perform the ceremony. When they accidentally summon the ghost of a handsome boy named Julian, and when another cousin, Miguel, dies unexpectedly, the teens, though grieved, finally have an opportunity for Yadriel to prove himself.

Cemetery Boys (2020), Aiden Thomas’ charming debut novel, is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale. Yadriel’s gender identity and sexual orientation are a main theme of the novel. In addition to being transgender, he considers himself gay, but his family doesn’t because they think of him as a girl who is supposed to like boys. Yadriel loves his family but is tired of being misgendered, misunderstood, and left out. It’s hard not to feel for him and it’s refreshing to read about a family who, despite their lack of understanding, love Yadriel dearly, regret that they don’t understand, and are trying to do better. Aiden Thomas, who is trans and uses the pronoun “they,” helps to define and separate the concepts of gender identity and sexual orientation for readers who may feel confused and helps us see that it takes time and effort for a well-meaning family to make these adjustments.

Aiden Thomas

Aiden Thomas

Though gender identity and sexual orientation are such an important part of Yadriel’s character, Cemetery Boys has so much more to offer to readers. Yadriel’s family and community are charming, especially his cousin Maritza who is vegan and doesn’t want to use animal blood to do her magic, but knows that her magic can heal. Thomas also gives us an engaging murder mystery (though the pacing sometimes struggles as some scenes go on way too long), and a delightful mix of Latin cultures. The focus on brujería, and how it has been blended with Catholicism, is really interesting and informative. Readers will learn a lot about brujería, Lady Death, and Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

As for Julian, the ghost, I know this will be an unpopular thing to say, but I didn’t like him. He’s reckless and has no impulse control. He made me nervous and I couldn’t figure out why Yadriel was attracted to him. I didn’t feel the romantic connection at all, but Thomas uses Julian’s character to contrast the effects of a supportive versus a toxic family environment and shows us that troubled kids are worth saving, too.

Cemetery Boys is a finalist for the Locus and Hugo Awards for best Young Adult novel and has already won other impressive awards. I listened to the audiobook version which is almost 14 hours long and is read by Avi Roque who gives a fabulous performance. Like Aiden Thomas, Avi Roque is Latinx, trans, and nonbinary. There’s an interesting interview between the two of them at the end of the audiobook.

Published in 2020. 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.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. Zina /

    Loved it! One of my favorite books, because it helped me to understand two cultures.

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