Cemetery Boys

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Cemetery Boys Book Poster Image
Enchanting queer Latinx fantasy has mystery, spirit-romance.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

A diverse Latinx community is represented. In the Latinx families and homes, matriarchs prepare traditional dishes, families engage in Dia de Muertos practices from different cultures, and share ancestral history and legends (Aztec and Mayan). Spanish words and phrases are used throughout; non-Spanish speakers might want to keep a device nearby to translate as needed. 

Positive Messages

Be your authentic self; haters will either lose out on your awesomeness or come around eventually. You deserve to be respected and treated with dignity. Love will come to you; it may be romantic, familial, in friendships, in culture or community, but it will come. Do what you can to foster relationships with and protect those you love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main characters model unconditional acceptance, fierce loyalty, and great strength. They come from a variety of Latinx and Afro-Latinx backgrounds: Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Colombian, Honduran, and Haitian. Brave and loyal Yadriel, 16, is transgender, gay, and comes from a long line of powerful brujx in his Cuban and Mexican family. His principled, gutsy 15-year-old cousin Maritza is Puerto Rican. And the irreverent, energetic spirit Julian, whose parents came from Columbia, identifies as gay and has a chosen family of friends he would -- and did -- die for. Julian is a fantastic role model of a cisgender boy who is unconditionally accepting of Yadriel's various identities. Secondary and background characters represent a diverse East Los Angeles Latinx community. The brujx community consists of healers and spirit guides. 

Violence

Julian's spirit relives his murder by stabbing -- it's more scary than gory. Homeless teens and Yadriel and Maritza's older cousin Miguel go missing and are suspected dead. A spirit that has gone "malingo" attacks and attempts to kill main characters; they are beaten up but survive. Ritual human sacrifice, involving bloodletting until death, is described, though beyond lots of blood, it's not described in gory detail.

Sex

A slow-burn romance between same-gender characters results in a few instances of hand-holding, embraces, and kissing.

Language

Regular swearing, mostly consisting of "s--t," and "hell," and a handful of uses of "a--hole," "pendejo" (roughly equal to "a--hole"in Spanish), "ass," "damn," and two uses of "f--k."

Consumerism

A few mentions of a Hydro Flask bottle and iPhones.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Yadriel and Julian attend a beach bonfire where high school kids drink beer, liquor, and smoke marijuana, but Yadriel and Julian do not.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that bestseller Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas, is set in East Los Angeles and tells the story of 16-year-old Yadriel, who faces exclusion from his brujx community of healers (women) and spirit guides (men) because he is transgender. (Bruja means witch in Spanish.) He becomes a brujo in secret, but in an attempt to locate the spirit of a deceased cousin, Yadriel accidentally gets pulled into another spirit's unresolved business. As Yadriel and the spirit, Julian, work to unravel the mystery surrounding Julian and the cousin's deaths, they enter into a doomed romance that includes a few instances of hand-holding, embraces, and kissing. Violence includes a physical attack by an evil spirit, references to shootings, and a ritual human sacrifice involving stabbing and bloodletting. Swearing includes mostly "s--t" and "hell," less frequent uses of "a--hole," "pendejo" (roughly equal to "a--hole" in Spanish), "ass," "damn," and two uses of "f--k." There are positive messages about every person's worth, the diverse nature of love, and protecting those you care about. Spanish words and phrases are used throughout; non-speakers may want to keep a device nearby for quick translations.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old July 11, 2021

nice representation

I have no idea why this says 14+? I read this when I was 10, and to be fair I'm mature for my age, but still. There is just a bit of swearing but that... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byJENSIS May 23, 2021

What's the story?

CEMETERY BOYS begins as 16-year-old Yadriel, shunned by most of his Latinx brujx community because he is trans, takes matters into his own hands and successfully performs a quinces ritual on himself, becoming the brujo he knows he is. Immediately, he senses his cousin Miguel's death, and tries to summon his spirit, but accidentally summons the spirit of Julian, a classmate he barely knows, but who has also just died. Yadriel's cousin, Maritza, his ride-or-die companion, helps him and Julian try to unravel the mystery surrounding Julian and Miguel's deaths. They are on a tight deadline with Dia de Muertos just a few days away (spirits must cross over to the afterlife before being able to come back and celebrate with their families). But Yadriel and Julian still manage to grow close, sparking a doomed, slow-burn romance. A plot twist puts the entire brujx community at risk of destruction, with only Yadriel and Maritza, both still inexperienced brujx, standing in the way.

Is it any good?

This book is an enchanting tour-de-force that portrays a vibrant, diverse Latinx community rooted in tradition and led by intensely likable, decidedly not traditional characters. Cemetery Boys is a triumph in terms of casting trans and gay characters whose entire lives don't revolve around being trans and gay. Yadriel and Julian, though practically opposites, are both compelling and relatable characters that readers can identify with. They will, of course, be especially treasured by queer and trans readers who rarely see themselves cast as magical heroes. 

The story is an education for those unfamiliar with Latinx culture, and a celebration for those who are. Author Aiden Thomas seamlessly weaves in cultural touchstones such as when Yadriel claims to be ill and his female relatives converge on him with home remedies like manzanilla tea, an egg to ward off the evil eye, and VapoRub. Extensive preparations for Dia de Muertos, where each element is given meaningful attention in the text, paints a colorful, lively picture of this important holiday. While some of the plot turns may be predictable, Thomas' beautiful writing, his compelling, full-of-personality characters, and tension-filled pacing makes this a must-read for just about anyone who likes a well-told story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the characters' quests to be accepted for who they are in Cemetery Boys. How did Yadriel go about this? Where did Julian find acceptance and love before he died? What is Maritza's approach? Did you relate to any of the characters? How so?

  • A diverse Latinx community helps make the smaller brujx community whole, with people from many different Latin American cultures and countries. What stories or traditions did you know about already? Which ones were new to you?

  • Cemetery Boys uses Spanish words and phrases that are either partially translated, understood via context, or not translated at all. How did that affect your reading experience? Why do you think the author sometimes chose not to translate?

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