Graveyard Gays: A Review of Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
Ya girl is back yet again with a new review! Hello, welcome to Reading Has Ruined My Life, my name is Hannah, and I am your host/guide into whatever book my mind has become obsessed with at the moment. I promise that we are not talking about vampires this week, but we are staying in the realm of the supernatural.
Please welcome to the stage Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas!
And yes, I know my review’s title is stolen from Aiden Thomas’ Twitter, but as they said, Graveyard Gays is right there and I’m not passing up the opportunity to use it. It’s too good! Without further ado, please enjoy a tale of love, death, family, and acceptance.
As always, a spoiler alert is in order. I will not be spoiling this book to the scale I did with last week’s story, but you have been warned. A content warning is in order as well. Cemetery Boys mentions transphobia, misgendering, and deadnaming as well as mentions of self-harm and the exploration into the loss of a parent. This review will talk about the first half of those issues, but know this book deals with many heavy topics.
Cemetery Boys follows Yadriel, a transgender, teenaged boy on a mission to have his very traditional Latinx family accept his gender and that he is a brujo. To prove himself, he decides that as a brujo he needs to succeed in helping and releasing a spirit into the afterlife. By doing so, he will not only prove that he has what it takes to be a brujo, but it will also cement his gender as well.
Exposition time. Thousands of years ago, the Goddess of Death, AKA Santa Muerte or Lady Death, blessed Yadriel’s ancestors with the abilities to help lost spirits and bring them to peace in the afterlife as well as healing others of pretty much any ailment or injury. By the way, males are the ones to move spirits on and women are the ones who do the healing. These people are known as brujx. These abilities have been passed down through the generations, but sadly their power is slowly diminishing. At the start, people had the ability to bring others back from the dead, but now, people can really only do minor healings and pass spirits on. These powers take so much out of brujxs that it can actually cause death if the person isn’t strong enough.
Back to Yadriel now. With the help of his all around badass cousin, Maritza, he goes through with a secret ceremony, known as the quinces ritual, to officially deem himself a brujo. Directly after preforming this ritual, the pair learn that their cousin Miguel was murdered. Making the best out of the tragic situation, Yadriel decides he’s going to find Miguel’s spirit and set him free; then their family will have to see Yadriel is indeed a brujo.
Naturally, things aren’t that simple. Instead of summoning Miguel’s spirit, Yadriel accidently summons the spirit of his classmate Julian Diaz. It turns out Julian was also murdered that night. Cemetery Boys always looks on the bright side though. Julian agrees to help Yadriel prove himself to his family if Yadriel helps solve Julian’s murder.
I love it. We got murder. We got spooky stuff. We got star-crossed lovers. We got two good boys named Michelangelo and Donatello, and a cutie-pie of a cat named Purrcaso. It has it all.
Now, before I get to the story review, I want to gush about the beauty that is the cover art. I’m not talking about beautiful jacket art by Mars Lauderbaugh or jacket design by Liz Dresner. The book jacket is amazing; seriously, it looks like a movie poster. There isn’t a part that’s not eye catching. But I’m not talking about the jacket art. I’m talking about the cover design. I have the Barnes and Noble YA Book Club edition of Cemetery Boys so I don’t know if the following is exclusive to this edition or not, but it’s simply gorgeous. Just look at it!
I’m in love! The color! The candles! The Chrysanthemums! Santa Muerte staring deeply into my soul! I love it, I love it, I love it!
I’m so sorry, I don’t know who designed this cover art or else I would give them credit. If anyone knows who was behind this design, please let me know and I will credit the artist. It’s seriously so beautiful that I can’t pass up an opportunity to gush about it even though I don’t have the artist’s name.
Onto the text now. If you didn’t guess already, I’m a big fan the genres this book touches on. It has some great horror elements and a good murder mystery to solve. Technically, it has two since Yadriel and Maritza want to solve their cousin’s murder as well as Julian’s, but I digress.
This novel is a coming-of age-story first and foremost though. It’s a story about fighting for acceptance, it’s about opening one’s self up to love, and it’s about standing up for what you believe in. I specifically want to talk about the fighting for acceptance aspect of this book.
As I’ve stated, Yadriel is a trans boy who is trying to prove to his family and community that he is indeed a brujo; which he totally is, Lady Death says so, you don’t argue with a God. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Yadriel is fighting. He’s fighting for himself, for his friends, for his family, but the most important part of this sentence is the beginning.
No longer shall Yadriel be silenced and told to sit on the sidelines when brujx matters are discussed. He’s also done with his family using the wrong pronouns when talking about him. Yadriel is at the point where he’s all around done with his family’s shit and is prepared to fight those he loves to be accepted for who he is.
When readers meet him, Yadriel has been out for a handful of years. He still very much loves his family, that’s very important to note, but he can’t keep letting his family use incorrect pronouns or deadnaming him at this point in his life. The adjustment period is long since over; his family must do better!
And they do. The juxtaposition between his family at the beginning and the end of the novel is incredibly heartwarming. It should also be noted that there is never a point in the novel where Yadriel’s family does not love him, but the level of his acceptance is highly questionable at times.
For example, when the news of Miguel’s murder breaks, Yadriel is the only male not out searching for Miguel’s body. Why? Well, his father tells him not to because he still views Yadriel as “daddy’s little girl” who has never had a quinces ritual. So in this situation we’re not only being transphobic but sexist as well. Not cool.
Thankfully, Cemetery Boys is very much a “started at the bottom, now we here” type of deal. The main reason Yadriel’s father cannot fully see Yadriel for who he is ties back to the brujx roles. He’s scared that Lady Death would deny Yadriel the chance to be a brujo due to archaic gender roles and tradition. Thankfully, as I’ve already said, that’s not the case. Lady Death accepts Yadriel as male and therefore accepts him as a brujo. Lady Death’s acceptance really gives Yadriel the strength to stand up to his father. Yadriel is able to not only pass a spirit into the afterlife on his own, but, once successfully doing so, he’s able to flat out tell his father to use the correct pronouns when referring to him and not call him by his deadname. It’s because of both of those things that his father is able to fully accept his son.
I love to see it. I love to see someone being proven wrong, accepting they were wrong, and changing their ways. Especially considering that in this case, everything isn’t magically righted in the end. Despite his family’s full, unquestioning acceptance by the end of the book, Yadriel still acknowledges that things will be difficult for him all throughout his life and that he’ll always have to fight for himself.
Transphobia, racism, people being a dick; they all still exist. The climax of this book doesn’t magically fix the world. The world isn’t perfect, and Aiden Thomas made sure to recognize that. But for now, the characters are happy and in a good place, and I think that’s a pretty good ending.
Know what else this book has that’s pretty good? Our star-crossed lovers.
I’m not much of a fan of the star-crossed lovers troupe, I much prefer enemies to lovers, but Julian and Yadriel work so well together. I think they work so well together because their love story is a slow burn until the last third of the book.
The pair don’t have a love at first sight, head-over-heels initial meeting. I would say there is a slight physical attraction when they first meet, but neither of them are certainly thinking about romance in that instance. Seriously, the setting is a decrepit church in the middle of a cemetery; that doesn’t really scream romance. Also don’t forget the fact that Yadriel has to tell Julian he’s dead. Yeah, the romance cards aren’t in the pair’s favor. But there is a mutual respect and trust between the pair, and I think that’s why I like them so much.
Aiden Thomas presents a couple with a healthy foundation. Respect and trust are two of the most important things a relationship should be built on. Add in the fact that these two need to work together, make compromises, and push each other to do things the other wouldn’t normally do throughout the entirety of the novel and you get an extremely strong bond. This relationship may go from acquaintances to friends to lovers in a short span of time, but the connection between the two is so strong that I feel like this is one of the strongest relationships I’ve seen in literature in a long time.
And on their own, both characters are as strong as their relationship. Julian is the resident bad boy with a heart of gold--longtime readers know how much I love this type of character--and Yadriel is the insecure teen with a chip on his shoulder. I know who these two are from the moment I meet them. The additional 300 pages readers spend with the two, the more developed they become and the more they grow. That’s another reason the two work so well together. Julian and Yadriel are opposites; they push each other and help the other to grow.
I could totally gush on and on about this book, but this review has already gone on for far too long. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside for the whole 350 pages. The world Thomas painstakingly details is absolutely breathtaking and I could have spent so much longer in it. Cemetery Boys is going to become one of my comfort reads, I can already tell.
If you are fan of YA lit and haven’t already read this book, then I implore you to do so. It has gorgeous imagery, a great love story, and many heartwarming scenes in between all the horror elements and supernatural dealings. I seriously can’t wait to read this one again.
And on that note, I must bid you all adieu. Until next time, stay safe, wash your hands, wear your mask if you aren’t vaccinated, and read some good books for me.