Back in the first half of the year, kinapalan ko na yung mukha ko, as we say in the Philippines, and I requested an ARC from Aiden Thomas himself because NetGalley and Edelweiss had both rejected my request. Well, Aiden is an angel of the first water because he went ahead and sent me an ARC anyway!
Read on to find out what I loved so much about Aiden Thomas’s debut!
Title: Cemetery Boys
Author: Aiden Thomas
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Rating: Highly Recommended
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.
Content warnings: Sexism, transphobia
☕ Quotes ☕
“Julian was the most alive person he’d ever met. Even as a spirit, we was bright and full of constantly moving energy. A sun crammed into a body.”
“Growth isn’t a deviation from what we’ve done before, but a natural progression to honor all those who make this community strong.”
☕ Plot ☕
Cemetery Boys begins with preparations for a Dia de los Muertos celebration. Trans brujo Yadriel is determined to set free the ghost of his murdered cousin, proving himself to his highly traditional family once and for all. But he ends up summoning the ghost of Julian, his school’s resident bad boy, and uncovers a plot that might spell doom not just for him and his cousin-slash-best friend Maritza, but all the brujxs in Los Angeles.
The plot of this book is pretty straightforward, with no unexpected twists and turns. However, it was executed flawlessly. The tightly-woven narrative with moments of soft character interaction interspersed throughout, as well the hints and clues, made for an incredibly enjoyable reading experience.
I also really appreciated how inexorably tied Yadriel’s trans-ness is to the story. I am not trans myself, but I really appreciated the intimate, meaningful look into what life is like for a trans person, and particularly a trans POC. And best of all, Yadriel is able to find love and acceptance amongst those who care about him. While I agree that queer stories talking about pain and hardship are needed and important (especially those from queer POC), it’s so beautiful to also read stories about QPOC joy. I truly appreciate and am grateful to Aiden for bringing this beautiful, fresh new offering to urban fantasy!
But the best thing about this book was its ultimate message of tradition and acceptance. Throughout all the references to the various Latinx cultures, we are shown how Yadriel, although dearly loved, is not as accepted by his family because they don’t adhere to certain cultural traditions. However, by the ending, we are shown his family accepting Yadriel wholeheartedly for who he is, and admitting that there is space in their traditions for him that no one else can fill.
☕ Writing ☕
Aiden Thomas’s writing style, just like the plot of Cemetery Boys is simple and straightforward. But the simplicity and straightforwardness suits it just fine, and makes the story quickly digestible and easy to follow. It also allows the reader to focus more on things like the message the book wants to get across to the readers, as well as the incredible characterization.
There are two things in particular that I want to highlight about Aiden’s writing. The first is the unmistakable portrayal of the many different Latinx cultures. Far too often, non-Latinx readers tend to lump Latinx books and authors into one umbrella. While there is indeed plenty of overlap and there are tons of things that generally all Latinx people can relate to, it’s still good to remember that there are many different kinds of Latinx people and they’re not the same or interchangeable. This book does, in my opinion, a good job of letting readers remember that.
I also want to talk about how Aiden was able to really portray Yadriel’s emotional growth and journey. I already mentioned that this book ends happily for him, but seeing how Yadriel got there was just absolutely beautiful. Aiden’s writing really makes you feel for Yadriel every step of the way. Just ask any of the readers who instantly wanted to adopt him!
☕ Characters ☕
This book featured a whole host of truly excellent characters – including a really great villain tbh, and a truly memorable host of Latinx families that are loud, rambunctious, and feed their kids too much food. But I want to focus on our two adorable leads, Yadriel and Julien.
Yadriel loves his family, but he also wishes that they’d be more accepting of him, rather than just tolerant (and to be honest, the distinction between the two is a very important topic that this book covers as well). His yearning to participate fully and wholly in his culture while also owning his identity as a trans man is a journey I think a lot of trans POC kids can relate to, and it really does tug at our heartstrings.
As for Julian, his is the classic story of a kid from a rough background who cares deeply about his loved ones and who teachers and other adults have given up on. It’s so sad and frustrating to see the system fail him again and again, and know that that happens all the time in real life.
Still, his attitude towards the world – “I’m trying to be tough but secretly I’m super soft especially towards the people I love” – absolutely endeared him to me. (I’m adopting him. I’m Julian’s mom now. You can’t change my mind.) It was such a treat to see him soften up and fall in love with Yadriel, and it warms my heart so much to think of the two of them being happy.
☕ Overall ☕
This was just such a good book. It was straightforward but also incredibly compelling and meaningful, and so heartwarming! With lovable characters, a thrilling mystery, and a family-oriented ending, this book will definitely put a smile on your face. If you want to add more joyful trans books – especially one featuring trans POC – to your TBR, definitely check this out!
What do you think, friends?
☕ Have you read Cemetery Boys? What did you think?
☕ What’s your favorite Latinx book?
☕ What about your favorite book by a trans author?