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A Ghostly Gay Romance For the Ages: “Cemetery Boys” Review

“Cemetery Boys” offers the perfect story for the spooky season as well as a properly bone-chilling romance mystery.

I’ve always granted Halloween a special treatment I like to call “The Christmas Effect,” meaning I like to start celebrating a solid month in advance. This year, I decided to start my pre-October Halloween celebration with the book “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas. The book has lived on my “To Be Read” list for three years My first thought after closing the back cover was, “I was a fool to not have read this sooner.”

Released on Sept. 1, 2020, the book is a young adult urban fantasy as well as Thomas’ debut novel. With the perfect mix of head-scratching mystery and heart-aching romance, “Cemetery Boys” is the perfect way to welcome October and start your spooky season off right. 

The book follows Yadriel, a 16-year-old Latino boy in Los Angeles, as he tries to find his place in his close-knit brujx community; Brujx is the gender-neutral version of the Spanish term “brujo” and “bruja” which translates to sorcerer or witch. This specific community, as Thomas describes in the book, has a special relationship with the dead, with everyone in the community being able to see, hear and communicate with ghosts. Men– called brujos– can release souls to the afterlife if they stay tethered to Earth, and women– called brujas– have magical healing abilities for the living. 

However, complications arise when Yadriel’s cousin goes missing, and in an attempt to find him, Yadriel summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, a kid from his class. Julian refuses to move to the afterlife until he’s checked on his friends, and Yadriel, determined to prove himself to his family by releasing Julian’s spirit to the afterlife, agrees to help him. However, the more time that passes Yadriel finds himself falling in love with Julian, making him question if he’ll ever be able to let him go. 

Despite being only 342 pages, Thomas works wonders to make “Cemetery Boys” as narratively dense as possible. The story balances the daunting mystery of Julian’s death and Yadriel’s cousin’s disappearance and the blossoming relationship between the two boys well; both plot lines work in tandem, allowing the relationship to push the investigation forward and the want for truth to pull Yadriel and Julian together. Neither plot line felt overpowering, and by the end of the book I was left satisfied with the conclusion of both of them. 

Additionally, Thomas weaves Yadriel’s character arc masterfully throughout all of the plot points. The reason Yadriel finds it difficult to fit in with his community is the fact that he is trans. This is something his community, and his immediate family, tolerate, but never quite accept. Beyond his deceased mother and a loyal cousin, Maritza, no one in the community makes an effort to welcome him into cultural ceremonies. They even skip his Quinceañero, often referred to as “quince” in the book, which is a big deal in the brujx community. The quince is where the young adults of the brujx community come into their powers and are able to start training their magical abilities

While the book doesn’t shy away from transphobia, with Yadriel getting deadnamed and misgendered, Thomas includes it artfully. Deadnaming is when someone incorrectly addresses a transgender or nonbinary person by their birth name or their “dead name.” Misgendering, along the same vein, is when someone uses incorrect pronouns for a transgender or nonbinary individual. While it’s not usually done with malicious intent, it is still a sign of disrespect to that person. When Yadriel gets called his deadname, Thomas makes a point to never mention what Yadriel’s deadname actually is, cutting off the dialogue when those situations happen. I think this is perfectly suited for a young adult novel, which “Cemetery Boys” is marketed as. It doesn’t turn a blind eye to the reality of transphobia and the microaggressions it comes with, but it approaches it in a way that feels both tactful and sensitive. 

Thomas also shows their mastery in writing through the dialogue between all the characters. A majority of the book is spent with Yadriel, Julian and Maritza, all of whom are 16 years old. There was never a point in the book that a conversation felt out of place. Everything flowed smoothly and the conversations felt authentic. Even in Yadriel’s internal narration, the language felt like what a 16-year-old would use. 

Thomas incorporates intermittent Spanish well. As the book takes place in a Latinx community and a few characters are noted to not speak English, Thomas makes good use of Spanish phrases and conversations. Though there are no translations, the given context of the conversation works perfectly to help clue non-Spanish-speaking readers in on what is being said. 

As someone who doesn’t understand Spanish in the slightest, I never felt there was any point in the book where I wasn’t able to follow what was being communicated from other things such as the character’s noted body language, mentions of a character’s tone or the actions of other characters. If I was really curious as to what was going on, I only needed to look up a translation. But the book was so well written and immersive that I couldn’t bear to put the book down. 

“Cemetery Boys” made history by being the first novel on the New York Times bestseller list by an openly transgender writer that featured a transgender main character, and it deserves every accomplishment that comes with that title. It’s fun, witty, complex and multifaceted in a way that makes it so enjoyable to sit down and read through. If you are looking for the perfect spooky book to start off your Halloween season or are just simply looking for a new thrill, “Cemetery Boys” is the book for you. If you are looking to learn more about the book or the author, check out Thomas’ website.

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