** currently not available on Book Depository. Shipping also seems to be difficult (at least in Germany), so I read the e-book version!
CW’s: Loss of a Loved One, Themes of Murder, Sacrifice and Death, Misgendering/Deadnaming (challenged), Blood
Representation 🌷 Latinx (Cuban-Mexican) Gay Trans MC, Latinx Gay LI
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave..
The story follows Yadriel, a trans brujo trying to prove himself! ➽ He was such an endearing protagonist who gave me the urge to protect him from any harm. Yadriel was very relatable as he’s rather awkward, nervous, and generally anxious and worrying all the time, traits I know all too well. Most of all, he has a good heart and just wants his family to accept him, though that’s not as easy. A big part of his character Arc centers on his hope to prove to his community that he’s a brujo and finally be included in all their traditions. It was heartbreaking to see how his family loved him, but also didn’t understand him and often couldn’t see him for who he truly was. Alone and isolated, he does his rite to become a brujo in secret and tries to solve the murder of a fellow brujo in order to get the recognition he deserves. I really enjoyed following along with Yadriel’s mission and how Julian gently questioned who he was trying to prove himself to. Most important, Julian reminded him that he wasn’t alone and that there must have been other trans brujos in history!
“FINALLY!” Julian burst out, annoyed but smiling as he leaped to his feet. “I’ve been—dude, stop screaming—I’ve been waiting for FOREVER!”
Speaking of: I loved Julian!! ➽ He’s the ghost that Yadriel accidentally summons when he tries to find the spirit of his cousin Miguel. Now that Julian is here, Yadriel cannot run away from him and agrees to help him find out more about his death, hoping to also solve his cousin’s demise. Julian Diaz is exactly the kind of character I love: he loves to banter (& is incredibly funny), is fiercely loyal and a bit of a disaster. You can see how fiercely he defends his friends and how he’d never let someone down he loves. There are a lot of assumptions about him made by other people, especially critiquing his impulsiveness and hot temper, but the story beautifully shows that Julian is so much more than that and it’s not so easy to fit people into stereotypes. Julian’s boundless energy, impatience and strong emotions are what makes him so special.
“My brother is gonna kill me,” he groaned against his palms. “Looks like someone already beat him to it,” Maritza said, reaching out to poke her finger right through Julian’s elbow. “Quit it!” he snapped, wrenching his arm away. Julian turned his scowl to Yadriel again. “So, what, I’m a ghost now?”
Another star of the book is Maritza, Yadriel’s cousin ➽ She’s very close to him because she’s also a bit of a black sheep in the community, though for a very different reason. Maritza’s vegan, so she refuses to participate in any of the rituals involving blood, though she’s still seen as a bruja. I loved the cousin banter, teasing, and fighting between Maritza and Yadriel, it made me want to see more close cousin relationships, as I feel like we don’t have enough of them in YA! Maritza herself was fierce when she wanted to be, a much better liar than Yadriel, and committed to any trouble he might get them into!
“So the sleepover went well, I take it?” Maritza smirked. “There was very little sleep involved,” Yadriel murmured. When Maritza giggled, he shot her a glare. “Because he wouldn’t shut up.”
I also liked the world building and atmosphere a lot! ➽ I read Cemetery Boys in October and it was the perfect time to do so (of course the book is amazing any other time of the year as well)! Yadriel’s family resides in a graveyard, as they have a strong connection to the spirits there – that alone gives off many spooky vibes. I also loved the concept of the brujx. They are Latinx witches who have been tasked with helping the living and the death by their goddess, giving them different powers. Everyone can see the spirits and feel the hurt of the entire community, yet Brujas can heal while Brujos can help spirits move on into the afterlife.
“We’re brujx—brujos can see spirits, and uh, help them cross over to the afterlife,” Yadriel explained. “And brujas can heal people,” Maritza added. “So, you’re witches,” Julian said with a dubious look. Yadriel shook his head. “No.” “’Cause you’re dressed like a witch.” Maritza snorted.
This heavily gendered approach is also what the book discusses, showing how tradition can sometimes be too binary and set in their ways. Yadriel experiences this firsthand as a trans brujo who’s isolated because the others don’t accept him. The book also does a great way of showing a family who obviously cares for him, yet also hurts Yadriel by not really seeing him and sometimes still misgendering him. I especially liked the ending, because it showed process and moving forward, yet also highlighted that this was a start and not when things suddenly become perfect!
Of course, I was rooting for Julian and Yadriel!! ➽ When they’re forced to work together, they are pretty annoyed with each other but begin to grow closer together. Yadriel sees how loyal and fiercely protective Julian is behind his short temper and gigantic energy. Julian also sees Yadriel’s struggles to be accepted and his big heart. Their relationship is very much a slow burn, but the buildup was so well done and there were so many heartwarming and also heartbreaking moments between the two boys. They had great chemistry from the start and you could see how much they cared for each other by the end. Julian and Yadriel was definitely one of my favorite pairings of 2020 💕
“No—just listen.” Yadriel brought out his portaje. Julian scoffed, which was not how Yadriel thought any sane person should react to getting a knife pulled on them. “What are you going to do, stab me?” Julian’s laugh was sharp as he tapped a finger to his temple. “Already dead, remember?” (He really said What are you going to do, stab me? 😂😂😂)
Julian rolled his eyes before locking them onto Yadriel’s. “What’s it gonna do, kill me?” “I think a bigger problem would be people seeing a body falling out the window.”
He glanced down at his hoodie, torn black jeans, and combat boots. He squinted up at Julian. “And what’s my look?” Julian tipped his head side to side. “Gay goth witch?” Yadriel grabbed a stack of jack-o’-lantern napkins and threw them at Julian’s head.
“I know, I know, I know!” Julian growled impatiently. “You’ll flush me down the toilet!” Maritza gave Yadriel a startled look. A blush swept up the back of his neck and across his face. “I’m not—”
The plot was a bit slower and more character-focused though. ➽ I didn’t mind that because I adored all the characters and enjoy a character-driven story in general. The book was so comforting to me with all its banter, emotional moments, and great platonic/romantic bonds! However, I’d say that you should be aware it is slower book that isn’t super action-packed and driven by the plot. I have to say that the main mystery of who killed Miguel was a bit sidelined and only reappeared in the end. There were barely any clues in between the beginning and end, with some of them apparent to the reader without Yadriel realizing them. It was probably the only critique I have of the book, but since I loved the story this didn’t impact my rating much.
IN CONCLUSION. ➽ Cemetery Boys was a fantastic contemporary fantasy book with lots of spooky and witchy vibes, perfect for October, but also the rest of the year 👻 I loved all the characters so much and was especially rooting for Yadriel and Julian, they have become one of my favorite couples this year! In general, this book had a lot of banter and was so comforting for me to read 🥰
Have you read Cemetery Boys? What is your favorite book with lots of great banter and yearning? (especially if it has the grumy & sunshine dynamic) 👻