The problem with reading too many good things about a novel is that you tend to have exaggerated expectations, some works live up to them and some might even surpass your imagination, but many don’t. Cemetery Boys by Aidan Thomas fell in the latter category.
The main story is definitely intriguing – a trans boy called Yadriel is fighting against his traditional Latinx family’s ideas of gender, he wants to be a ‘brujo’ (wizard), while his relatives expect him to be a ‘bruja’ (witch), so he ends up being excluded from his father’s clique of Brujos. His family lives by a huge cemetery and is part of a Latinx bloodline that can see, summon and release spirits. Yadriel with his bestfriend Martiza’s help does his own initiation ceremony to become a Brujo. On the same day, his entire family feels the death of a member who was on guard duty at the cemetery, but cannot find his body. In his quest to solve the mystery of the missing cousin, Yadriel ends up summoning a spirit of a boy called Julian, whose appearance complicates things.
‘Cemetery Boys’ is rich in Latinx culture, traditions and beliefs. Author Aidan Thomas paints a vivid picture of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations and weaves in interesting lore about Gods into the story to keep things interesting. In the first few chapters, the mystery of the dead cousin and Yadriel’s identity are the core themes, however, in the second-half the focus gets diluted. Romance begins to take more center-stage, so in the end, it neither makes a great mystery read nor a romantic one. Also, the title might make some readers expect horror elements, and while the tale does have ghosts and spirits, the spook factor is very low.
Those who are used to reading thrillers would be able to guess who is villain before they getting half-way into the book, which is absolutely fine, the meager background to the antagonist is more disappointing. Yadriel is the only character who is fleshed out in detail, and his journey as a trans-boy fighting to gain his family’s acceptance is both heart-breaking and inspirational. Julian Diaz is the other teen protagonist, whose back-story isn’t as elaborate, but readers do get a good sense of his overall personality. You have the classic ‘opposites attract’ trope at play, Yadriel is a shy, awkward, asocial, while Julian is loud, social, with a loyal gang of his win and a lot more spontaneous. It would’ve been nice to have a little bit more of Maritza, who in her brief appearances comes across as a fierce, sassy, lovable and reliable friend.
The queer representation in ‘Cemetery Boys’ is positive, wholesome and wrapped in a bitter-sweet package of teenage aspirations. While the novel isn’t the ‘stay up all night’ kind of engaging, it’s decently paced, with the plot slowing down a bit toward a predictable end.
It’s a 3/5 from me.
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