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Courtesy of Goodreads and Mars Lunderbaugh

October 7, 2020

Queer, Latinx Spookiness in ‘Cemetery Boys’

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Aiden Thomas’ Cemetery Boys is a fantastical read to kick your October off right. Filled with brujx (Latinx witches), ghosts and a ton of Latinx magic, Cemetery Boys is the perfect romantic adventure to enter the spooky season.

The story follows Yadriel, a young trans boy who wants to prove his gender to his family by acquiring and wielding the powers of the other brujos in his community. In his brujx family, only men are allowed to summon ghosts and help them move onto the afterlife while women are expected to perform solely in the healing arts. Determined to demonstrate his skills and his identity to his family, he sets out to help uncover the truth behind his cousin’s murder. Instead of summoning his cousin, however, he accidentally summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, the local high school bad boy, and as you can imagine, trouble only ensues from there.

More than anything, this novel is simply fun. It presents a beautifully realized Latinx fantasy with vivid characters and rich descriptions. The main characters, Yadriel, Julian and Maritza, stand out from the page. The reader can truly feel and understand Yadriel’s hopes: Being accepted by his family, proving himself a real brujo and belonging both in his community and his own skin.

Julian, as the hot and hot-headed ghost of the band, is complicated, vibrant and endearingly alive. Maritza, Yadriel’s cousin and strictly vegan bruja, is the friend you want watching your back, steadfast in her loyalty to both Yadriel and her refusal to use animal blood to perform the bruja’s healing magic. The fantastical elements of the world weave seamlessly with the L.A. backdrop, growing naturally out of the cultures that have inspired them. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Yadriel’s family lives in and works at a cemetery, where the ghosts of young girls play around tombstones and snitch on Yadriel to his parents, and the deceased gardener still lovingly tends his marigolds even after death.

By far the best part of the story, however, is the relationship that develops between Yadriel and Julian. When they first meet, Julian is dead, just a faded version of the vibrant person he used to be, but even these embers are enough to light a spark. Compared to Julian, Yadriel is much more subdued and quiet, but Julian’s influence helps bring out his more confident, reckless side. The steady growth of their characters as they learn from each other, and grow closer together, is heartwarming to experience.

My one critique of the novel is that the beginning especially seems to move forward a bit fast. The backstory and the exposition feel a little like they are dropped into the reader’s lap without much explanation; the characters move on quickly, not giving the reader much space to absorb or acclimatize to the basic setup and stakes of the novel before the plot really gets into motion. That said, once I understood the significance of Yadriel’s desire to be considered a brujo within the gendered binary of his family, I was fully able to immerse myself in the story and the rest of the novel moved at a wonderful pace.

If you are looking for a queer, Latinx fantasy set around Día de Muertos and with a paranormal bent, Cemetery Boys is the right read for you. Yadriel, Julian and Maritza are a compelling trio to wander with on the streets of L.A. and around a cemetery full of ghosts. As they work to solve both Julian and Yadriel’s cousin’s murders, their investigations lead around twists and turns that you might predict and others you won’t see coming. Mysterious, haunting and romantic, Cemetery Boys is the perfect novel to begin your October.

 

Jessica Lussier is a senior in the college of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jll335@cornell.edu