Oh, I knew what I was getting into. You should too. Cemetery Boys is definitely young adult, young teenage level with angst on the level of Sixteen Candles: sweet, but as much about the internal and family drama as it is an external driving plot. On the plus side, there are very well developed young high-school aged characters, which is to say, balls of changeable emotions, doubts and insecurities. Thomas wrote them all well enough to be just this side of annoying. As in many YA books, I thought the messaging to be extremely overt. In this case, it’s largely about identity in culture and gender, so at least the messaging adds further diversity voice to the genre. I’m noting it as a caveat for your consideration: in YA, such clarity is sometimes appropriate, but it’s a storytelling style that can only hold my interest for so long.
Yadriel is a teenage trans boy who has already passed age that he would have undergone the ritual acceptance into his family’s magic heritage. The magic has historically been along sex lines, with male brujos receiving a dagger and female brujas a rosary. Yad’s gender status presents a conundrum to his father, the leader of the brujos. Yad and his bestie Maritza undergo the ceremony in secret. When Yad summons a spirit, he ends up with Julian, a ghost who doesn’t want to be freed.
Although I noted some of the overt presentation of issues, I did appreciate further insight into the trans experience. Bringing up his “deadname” is extremely upsetting to Yadriel, and it’s worth noting we never see it as the reader. On the flip side, some of the Information on Dia de los Muertos was overly detailed. I appreciated how it contextualized the events, but on the other hand, it was probably a level of description that didn’t always come organically. I liked how people would speak in Spanish and then Yad’s would note the English translation in some way, such as “What? Why would we need to go now?” that works fairly well. That said, the Spanish wasn’t complex, for the most part, and assimilation might have worked just as well.
To me, the story seemed quite long for what was presented—perhaps too much over-explicit description of Y’s internal state—and predictable. I was at 47% when I guessed the villain, remaining arc and denouement. I had narrowed down the villain before that, but was very sure at that point. There is also a budding romantic storyline. At first, I thought it felt organic, but by the end, I had few doubts. There’s a ‘wild night of escape’ scene that gave me the eyerolls, although it at least was done with nice emotion. I suppose if you like watching a young person navigating identity with family and community, and budding friendship, you may enjoy witnessing Yad’s repeated struggles. For me, not so much.
Overall, a nice, sweet read, kind of like watching a John Hughes movie. It’s a nice twist on the brujos of folklore, and integrates well with Dia de los Muertos. It’s a nice addition to the genre.