Spotlight: Cemetery Boys

Hi, hello! It’s Cossette here, with another round of All Hallow’s Reads, with Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. Cemetery Boys takes place in the days leading up to Dia de los Muertos, and follows Yadriel, a trans teen boy, desperate to prove himself as a brujo to himself, and to his family. When his cousin Miguel is murdered a couple days before Dia de los Muertos, Yadriel, and his best friend Maritza, set off to find his body, and his portaje, in the hopes of releasing Miguel’s spirit. However, Yadriel accidentally releases the spirit of Julian Diaz, one of the resident bad boys of his school. Julian refuses to go quietly, not until they find out what happened to him, and until he receives confirmation that his loved ones are alright. Together, with the help of Maritza, and a surprise appearance of “The Boys”, they set off to find out what happened to Julian. But the more time Julian and Yadriel spend together, the more Yadriel finds himself wanting Julian to stay. Will they be able to release Julian before it’s too late? And will they figure out what happened to Miguel? 

  • Title: Cemetery Boys
  • Author: Aiden Thomas 
  • Publisher: Swoon Reads
  • Genre: Coming-of-Age, Fantasy (Paranormal), LGBTQ+, Own-voices, Romance, YA
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Trigger warnings: death (including mentions of a parental death), transphobia, misgendering, allusions to deadnaming, depictions of gender dysphoria, blood, non-violent mentions of blood magic, mentions of a car accident 
  • Rating:  ★★★★★

I don’t know what to do with myself now that I’ve finished Cemetery Boys. I wish I could go back in time and experience it again like I did the first time. I’d first heard about Cemetery Boys on Twitter, and was immediately interested in an own-voices book with a trans main character, a ghost love interest, and an entirely Latinx cast. My interest only grew when everyone I knew was raving about it – needless to say, all my expectations were met and more. I don’t like calling books “favorites” if I’ve only read them once, but I broke my rule for Cemetery Boys (It’s okay though, because by the time I’m posting this, I’ll have read it twice). Once I set it down, I instantly wanted to pick it back up and reread it again, if not for Yadriel’s story, then to see how I missed all the plot twists. I’m always a sucker for coming of age stories, and this one was just so well done. Like most coming-of-age stories, Cemetery Boys is filled with great character development, witty lines, and strong friendships. 

There’s a line in Cemetery Boys, that says “No, none of them deserved Julian Diaz”. And it’s true, but I think, none of us deserve any character in Cemetery Boys. You know the meme where it’s “I’ve only had Arlo for a day and a half, but if anything happened to him, I would kill everyone in this room and then myself”? That’s how I felt about everyone in Cemetery Boys. Let’s start with Yadriel. Sweet Yadriel —  I’ve never met a main character that was as easy to root for as Yads. Who doesn’t like an underdog, or watching someone grow out of their shell and become the person they’re meant to be? It physically hurt my heart to watch Yadriel struggle with his family’s acceptance — or lack thereof. Trying to grapple with the unconditional love he holds for his family, while reconciling with the hurt that only comes with having his identity erased or ignored is something that no one should go through. It’s something that’s all too familiar to me, and so many other people I love. Seeing that in Yadriel broke my heart. 

“The only thing more stupid than going around his family’s back, sumoning spirits, and trying to solve multiple murders would be falling for a dead boy.” 

And he’s self-aware too. Not that I could blame Yadriel for falling in love with Julian. 

Chaotic and fierce loving, Julian Diaz would do anything – and I mean anything – for his friends. He quickly stole my heart, and I’m sure he’ll steal yours as well. Julian reminds me of a pitbull – or rather, how people see pitbulls. Pitbulls have a reputation for being “bad”, but honestly, they’re lovely and so sweet. People just judge them based off of stereotypes — and that’s exactly what happened with Julian. In a recent tweet, Thomas confirms that Julian was written as someone with undiagnosed ADHD. As someone who spent most of their life without a proper ADHD diagnosis, I felt so incredibly seen by Julian. I remember reading about Julian and being the equivalent of the eyes emoji; his behaviors and his puppy energy seemed a little too familiar to me. Far too often, kids of color get sidelined by our education system (I’m speaking for the American education system, although I’m sure the same can be said for other education systems worldwide). I mean, academia is an institution founded on whiteness, and that is so evident in the way students of color are treated. Kids of color aren’t afforded the same chances, leniency, or even the gift of understanding and compassion that white students freely get. If you can’t conform to the mainstream education system as a kid of color, you’re most likely going to be labeled as a “problem child”. And that’s exactly what happened to Julian. Him and his friends are the byproduct of systems who have failed them, all in different ways, and for that, are labeled as “bad kids” and kids to stay away from. After all they’ve been through, it’s no surprise how loyal they are to one another. Julian and his friends are the literal definition of found family, always supportive and caring and fiercely protective of one another. In fact, Julian’s relationship with his friends was one of my favorite parts of Cemetery Boys. 

Speaking of friends, Maritza, Yadriel’s cousin and best friend, was just so fun. I am so, so glad that Yadriel had someone like Maritza on his side — someone who is his ride-or-die, someone who will stand by him. I can’t even fathom how isolating life must’ve been for Yadriel, even with Maritza there. I truly enjoyed reading about the strong friendship between them, as two outcasts in their community. Honorable mentions to Purrcasso the cat, and “The Boys,” who are not the boys in the title, Cemetery Boys (although I would love a spin off about “The Boys”), but rather, Maritza’s pitbulls. Anyone who knows me knows I love animals, including literary ones, and I’ve been gushing about how smart the name “Purrcasso” is for ages (my only “non-spoilery” thought while I was processing the entire book). 

I didn’t realize just how everything in Cemetery Boys happens over a couple of days, but it does. There’s a natural progression to every chain of events, and even the plot twist at the end was, in hindsight, traceable back to the beginning. The romance between Yadriel and Julian was so well-developed, complete with a lot of witty banter and a couple bits that made me a little emotional too. I simply couldn’t put Cemetery Boys down and stayed up far too late reading it the first time. I haven’t been able to shut up about the genius of Cemetery Boys since. A wonderful debut for Aiden Thomas, and I’m incredibly excited for his next book, Lost in the Never Woods which comes out in March 2021! I would also highly encourage you to look at some ownvoices reviews for Cemetery Boys, such as this one.

Goodreads | TheStorygraph | Bookshop | Indie Bound

About the Author

Aiden Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling Author with an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. Originally from Oakland, California, they now make their home in Portland, OR. As a queer, trans Latinx, Aiden advocates strongly for diverse representation in all media. Aiden’s special talents include: quoting The Office, useless trivia, Jenga, finishing sentences with “is my FAVORITE”, and killing spiders. Aiden is notorious for not being able to guess the endings of books and movies, and organizes their bookshelves by color.

Follow Aiden: Website | Goodreads | InstagramTwitter

Happy reading! 

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