Review: Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Cover of Cemetery Boys, featuring Yadriel at the front wearing a green shirt, Julian behind him facing the opposite direction, and Lady Death in the background facing straight at the viewer. A bright full moon is behind them all and marigold petals surround them.

Cemetery Boys delightfully surprised me! I was wary about how this book would treat Día de los Muertos since it is my favorite holiday, but I have to say that I am quite happy about how we got to see multiple latinx cultures represented in this celebration.

This book is set in East LA in a world where a group of people from Latinx cultures have acquired magical powers from Lady Death, La Santa Muerte. As time has gone on, they have slowly lost the intensity of their power, before it was said that they could bring people back to life, while now they do more basic healing and just help spirits pass to the afterlife. Their power is defined by their gender so women are healers while men help the spirits.

Our main character is Yadriel, a boy who is struggling to be recognized as a brujo because his family is having a hard time accepting his gender identity. He decides to go on a path to get that recognition with the help of his cousin and best friend, Maritza. Maritza is a bruja but she’s vegan and since to use magic they need to use animal blood, she refuses to actually use her powers. In the process of trying to prove himself a brujo, Yadriel summons the spirit of Julian Diaz and now he has to find a way to fix everything before things become dangerous for everyone (including Julian!)

I loved the use of Spanish throughout the book as well as all the references to food (omg I’m hungry thinking about pan de muerto and Gansitos ::drool::). Yadriel’s abuela reminded me a lot of my aunts who basically don’t let you out of their sight until they are satisfied that you’ve eaten properly. I thought that the traditional thoughts of gender were pretty spot on but I loved that Thomas was able to give it more empathy and compassion. While Yadriel is scared and disappointed about how his family is not getting it right 100% of the time, his dad and abuela obviously love him very much and are able to recognize their shortcomings when it counts.

I highly recommend this if you’re looking for something to read that includes the Día de los Muertos celebration as well as a book with trans representation. I now need to go plan out my ofrenda for this year!

~Paulina~ written in casual cursive on a purple background.

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