[REVIEW] Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

A Black woman's hand(my hand) holds up a black e-reader in front of a leafy green plant inside a sunny cafe. The reader displays the black and white cover of Cemetary Boys, which shows two cartoon-style Latinx teen boys standing back to back with Santa Muerta rising above them in the background.

(Buy it on Bookshop here.)

What’s in the sociocultural water inspiring all these queer YA ghost stories lately?

Yadriel is a brujo, born into a powerful family of Latinx witches in East LA. The problem is, no-one believes him. Yads is also a gay trans boy and his community’s magic is gendered–therefore everyone insists he’s actually a bruja. His struggles to prove himself a man lead him to accidentally call up the ghost of a cute boy from school, discover a dark magic conspiracy, and face down saints and deities man-to-man.

This book is a triumph of representation. The author is a non-binary trans Latinx person themselves, and Latinx LGBTQIA youth take center stage in the story honestly and vulnerably. I’m sure there are people feeling seen through these characters. There’s a lot of cultural pride on display as well, although it bounces between strongly Mexican-American elements to a slightly confusing pan-Latinx-American identity that blurs tradition and language. (For example, I was a bit surprised to see a half-Haitian brujx family but no Dominicans. I get the sense that many of these characters are probably based on real people the author knows, but there were still cultural moments that didn’t mesh and missing elements, IMO.) A lot of important themes are worked into the story and there’s a strong sense of cultural reclamation through the descriptions of family, brujeria and Dia De Los Muertos celebrations. Also, I’ve followed the writer on Twitter for ages and they seem like a remarkably lovely, culturally sensitive person.

I hope all of that cancels out the bad review karma I’m going to earn with the rest of this post. There’s a lot of Moments of Awesome in this story, but the book just didn’t gel for me. Something about the proclamatory culture/gender infodumps, the red flag first boyfriend romance, and the overall writing just left me cold. I thought at first it was because I’m not the target audience and was missing context, so I reached out to a well-read Mexican LGBTQ community friend to chat about some of my thoughts. I even sent him a few pages to preview and got back the following terse response, shared with permission:

“The f*ck are you making me read?! Twilight for Mexicans?”

Welp. 😂😂😂

3 stars and a decorated calavera to Cemetery Boys.

(Beautiful people! Good to see you here. Please remember that this blog has affiliate relationships and if you click/purchase from a link on these pages, a commission will be earned. Check out the updated Bookshop page, and go read something good.)

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