Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

The cover of Cemetery Boys, with Yadriel looking up in the foreground holding a marigold. He is wearing a button down and a pendant. Behind him, Julian stands facing away, wearing a hoodie and looking behind him at Julian. Behind the two are tombstones and candles. Marigold petals swirl around the two and back towards the moon which takes up the upper third of the cover. Those petals, however, do not originate from the moon, but from Lady Death, who stands resplendent in red with her own crown of marigolds, looking down at the two lead characters. In large gold text covering Yadriel's torso are the words "CEMETERY BOYS". Below that, at the bottom of the cover in smaller, lighter text, are the words "AIDEN THOMAS".

I think by now we all know Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is amazing, but in case you haven’t heard: it’s amazing. The story follows trans teen Yadriel Flores who–in his attempts to prove himself to his community as a brujo and as a man–accidentally summons the spirit of Julian Diaz, an outgoing guy of the same age who Yadriel can’t get rid of. The two, along with Yadriel’s bruja friend named Maritza, find themselves tangled up in the mysterious disappearances of a number of teens in the area. Along the way, Yadriel and Julian’s relationship deepens as they learn more about each other, but death may keep them apart.

This #ownvoices modern fantasy set in California is a story that safely pushed me to confront my own conflicting need for validation and unhealthy desire to prove myself as a trans man, all while methodically pulling me emotionally towards the heartfelt romance between Yadriel and Julian.

It’s natural for me to see myself in trans guy characters like Yadriel. Even if there are many ways that we are different, the bridge to empathizing is a very short one. Because I could put myself in his shoes easily, I could instantly know how I would feel if I were spending time with Julian and how I would react if he asked me who I needed to prove my gender to, and if I needed to prove anything at all. The instantaneous reaction when Yadriel tries to deflect, to say “It’s complicated–” (184) and “It’s not that simple–” (185), is so very realistic, that it was like I was the one being asked the question.

But the way Thomas writes it, and the way Julian is as a character, it’s not an interrogation or an accusation. It’s just a simple moment, easily dropped before pushing too far, and then brought up later only after the relationship between Yadriel and Julian had deepened. Thomas clearly showed where the boundaries between the two were, let their affection for one another build slow enough that you might not even notice, and then those boundaries just weren’t there anymore. And honestly that takes extreme skill–to not only cause the reader to feel just how much two people care about each other, but to not let the reader notice when and how things started to change from strangers to friends to lovers.

[Without spoiling, just know that I’m looking straight into the camera and thinking of Julian’s line that he “snapped viciously” on page 231. You’ll know the one.]

To return to the fact that this is a review and I need to actually tell you if you should read it, the answer is yes, 100%, absolutely, why have you not already? I read this early in September, and have been raving about it ever since to various friends. I genuinely haven’t met someone who feels negatively (or even just lukewarm) about this book.

I even got a trans friend of mine from Chicago to get Cemetery Boys and live-update me as he read. Our chat thread was literally just iterations of “THAT’S THE GOOD SHIT” and “it gets better my friend just u wait” and “Hey so I’m crying????” If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.

So go buy this wonderful book by a queer and trans Latinx person that is so full of life and love (and, yes, Death). When it comes to books that get a lot of awards or hype, this one definitely doesn’t let down.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Hardcover: $17.99

Page Count: 353 pages

ISBN: 978-1-250250469

Content Warnings: Death, ghosts, transphobia, misgendering, deadnaming, exclusion, car accidents, gun violence, homelessness, blood, stabbing, violence, deportation, family issues

Note: Hey, so it’s been a minute, and just after I said I’d be returning, too. A bit of a medical thing came up. It’s not COVID, and although it was very scary and painful at first, it turned out to not be as scary as we initially thought and the pain has gone away by now. I should be *fingers crossed* able to start regularly posting again, though I’ll be honest, I’m about to start classes again, and 2020 has so far continued to be a real dick of a year, so it’s not about to cower anytime soon I imagine. If all goes well, you’ll be seeing three posts from me a month as usual, as well as a potential secret project I’ve been working on with some folks.

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