Cemetery Boys Was Not Quite Thrilling Enough

Cemetery Boys | Aiden Thomas

★★★

Cemetery Boys is a lot of things – a romance story, a story of acceptance for a trans boy, a supernatural fantasy tale. It centres around Yadriel as he summons a spirit to pass it on to the afterlife which only brujos can do – in order to prove himself to his family. Things don’t quite go to plan and Yadriel, along with his cousin Maritza, tries to find out what happened to the spirit, Julian and how he was murdered. And to throw a wrench into the mix, he totally begins to fall for a ghost.

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By the title of this post, you know I was a little bit disappointed with this book. The premise is very cool,  there is a lot of fantasy Latinx culture and the book builds up to dia de muertos where, ghosts can return to their loved ones. Julian’s death provides a murder mystery element and some angsty teen romance between Yadriel and a boy who is unfortunately dead. I say some, this is essentially a contemporary romance story with a spiritual twist and a larger plot added on top. This is basically why I was a disappointed with the book – yes, I am naturally someone who gravitates towards fantasy rather than romance, but the fantasy never felt like an afterthought – it’s something Thomas clearly thought about and worked really hard on. So the book promises a more fantasy than it delivers. The climax features ancient gods, a ritual gone wrong and magical powers but this is over and dealt with in a few pages. Plus, a couple of big things happen in the climax but no one really comments on it.

The bulk of the plot centres around Yadriel and Julian’s relationship. It’s revealed early on that Julian has been murdered, but doesn’t remember anything and he wants to find out if his family and friends are okay. Yadriel and his cousin, Maritza who are able to see ghosts (the same as the rest of their community) promise to help Julian, try to solve the murder. In exchange for that, Yadriel will help Julian pass onto the afterlife and prove once and for all that he’s a man. The focus is more on Yadriel’s relationship with Julian and his internal conflict about wanting to prove his identity. This felt a little bit slow, purely on the fact that unlike most teen sleuths, they insisted on going to school every day and the narrative spends more time on the normal aspect of Yadriel’s life than what I think is the more interesting stuff – the murder mystery, the magic, the ghosts. As such, by the time you get to the magical climax, there’s approximately one thing that it could be, and, if you have been paying attention, probably only one person who could be behind all of this.

So here’s my disclaimer – I think this book had a lot more potential, if it had either been more in depth on the magic OR a bit simpler. A romance story with less emphasis on the fantasy side would have worked really well (in some ways, it reminded me of Meg Cabot’s Mediator series, where the main character falls for the ghost in her bedroom and though there is a supernatural world, it’s fairly minimal). Otherwise, I think the climax should have been longer and in more depth, some red herrings thrown in, perhaps some internal conflict in his community to put us off the scent of who the murderer was and let the romance take maybe 50% of the plot rather than a solid 70-90%. It also felt like we were told lots about the magic system and how it worked and then were never really given the opportunity to enjoy it.

To end on the positives, this is an #OwnVoices romance story about a trans boy and that aspect of it is great. There are details there that fit really naturally – from Yadriel worrying about his binder to his grandmother calling him her ‘little girl’ and how, though it’s said with love, affects him. The love story is a sweet one, and you really root for Yadriel and Julian, despite the tiny problem that one of them is dead. And for the most part, Yadriel’s struggle for acceptance is mostly internal, his family comes across as mostly accepting though not quite there yet, which is a place that I imagine a lot of trans people are in.

On the Latinx front: I really enjoyed the depiction of the culture, how it borrowed from real life and embellished it. I liked the way that Spanish was woven in and the characters’ relationship with the language, how naturally they swap between English and Spanish because that is what bilingual people do. I have a teensy advantage in that I’ve been learning Spanish since the start of this year, so a lot of it made sense, but my friends who don’t know Spanish found it was clear enough in context without explicitly spelling things out.

I also really liked the main trio of characters (though they could have used a bit more fleshing out). Maritza was particularly cool, and if Thomas has a sequel in the works with her being a badass witch who someone doesn’t use blood magic, I am here for it.

I think a lot of people will enjoy this as a pure, fluffy, romance novel with a bit of a ghostly twist and a happy ending. But it didn’t quite hit the spot for me. I’m hoping Thomas’ future books go a bit in depth with the fantasy elements because there is talent there and I’d love to see an expanded version of this universe. Give me more Lady Death, Xibalba and Ancient Mayan Gods and I will read it!

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Have you read Cemetery Boys? What did you think?

2 thoughts on “Cemetery Boys Was Not Quite Thrilling Enough

  1. Loved this objective review, Arub! The hesitation in the blog title here had me clicking SO fast because this book is really heavy on hype but nobody it really talking about the different aspects of the book… just referencing the author and the rep (which is all well and good, but how’s the story)? This… actually still sounds up my alley – the bit about language integration made my heart burst – I absolutely love that in books. Thanks for the review!

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  2. I was a bit nervous to post it actually because of all the hype and the author. But I always want to review books on their merit rather than just on representation. I’m always happy to see own voices authors do well but I also think I should give fair reviews!

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