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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Misgendering, transphobia allusions to dead-naming, depictions of gender dysphoria, loss of a parent (in the past), loss of a loved one, death, grief, references to blood magic and cult themes, ritualistic self-harm, abandonment, bullying, kidnapping, brief mention of racial profiling, mentions of deportation, mentions of child abuse

“Don’t mourn me.
If you cry for me, I grieve your pain.
Instead, if you sing to me, I’ll always live and my spirit will never die.”

Before reading this review, please check out Adri’s review, their full vlog, and their interview with Aiden Thomas! They’re content for this book is the reason I became even more hyped about reading this book. So please check those links out!

I knew I was going to love this book with my whole heart. Also, I had a feeling it would make my favorite books of 2020 and I predicted it was going to be a five star read. What I didn’t predict was being surprised with how long it took me to realize the Mayan mythology, the way so many of the themes hit close to home, and I certainly didn’t expect to be sobbing my eyes out for an hour after finishing this book. This truly is a beautiful debut novel and I hope everyone picks this book up soon!

Yadriel wants nothing more than to be accepted for who he really is by his traditional Latinx family. With the help of his best friend Maritza to preform the ritual and sets out to help his family locate the ghost of his cousin Miguel. Except, Yadriel summons the wrong ghost. When Julian Diaz appears instead of his cousin, Yadriel thinks he can help him move on, but Julian isn’t going to go quietly and might be the only link Yadriel has to what happened to Miguel. This unlikely pair will team up to get what they want, but sometimes he worst thing isn’t summoning the wrong ghost, it’s falling for one.

“Julian was the most alive person he’d ever met. Even as a spirit, he was bright and full of constantly moving energy. A sun crammed into the body of a boy. Yadriel didn’t want to see him without his light.”

I really loved Yadriel as our main character (though I love Julian just as much). First off, Yadriel is a precious cinnamon roll and you can’t tell me otherwise. However, I loved how Yadriel being trans is so closely tied to the story and the magic system. I’m not trans or Latinx myself, so I can’t speak about either of those representations. However, I appreciate intimacy and how meaningful it was to have an inside look at what life is like for a trans person especially a trans POC. I also loved how the negative got balanced out with the good. Yes we see the hardships Yadriel experiences, but we also get to see Yadriel be loved, cherished, and valued for who they are by people who care about him. I love that we have that balance because it’s so important to show the bad with the good. And honestly, it might be my favorite thing about this whole book next to the family dynamics. I’m really glad Aiden put both is this book and wove it so beautifully throughout this story.

Of course I have to take a moment to talk about Julian, my other favorite cinnamon roll of this book. Julian is your classic case of a kid with a rough background, who’s fiercely loyal and protective of the ones he cares about, and who everyone else (like teachers and a certain brother) have given up on. Julian is a character I could connect with immediately because I’m a person who’s fiercely loyal and protective of those I care about. He’s such an endearing character and the way he slowly falls in love with Yadriel was just beautiful, heart warming, and I’m super soft knowing these two cinnamon rolls found such a deep love with one another.

Circling back, one of the most clearest messages throughout this entire book is the emphasis of tradition and acceptance. There are countless references to various Latinx cultures and how Yadreil, though loved by his family, isn’t truly accepted by his family as a whole because they don’t adhere to the cultural traditions. This leads to a lot of internalized hurt and conflict about their feelings toward their family. There was a quote that really stuck out to me and really hits close to home. I debated on including it, but I feel that it’s too important not to include. However, by the end of this book we see the growth and we see the family begin to be more accepting, realizing you can have traditions and have space for acceptance and change.

“But belonging meant denying who he was. Living as something he wasn’t had nearly torn him part from the inside out. But he also loved his family, and his community. It was bad enough being an outsider; what would happen if they just couldn’t–or wouldn’t–accept him for who he was?”

Of course I have to talk about family dynamics and how big a theme family is throughout this book! Aiden truly gives us the full diversity of family dynamics. Yadriel comes from a large Latinx family. However, Yadriel is technically from a single parent home, more specifically a single father home. I can’t begin to express how important this representation is. Far too often, we rarely see the single parent household in books and when we do, it’s usually the single mother household. This is probably my second or third book I’ve read that has the single father home dynamic and I know there’s going to be readers out there who will feel seen by that representation. We also have the older sibling taking care of the younger sibling home dynamic and the found family dynamic. Julian comes from the home life of just him and his brother against the world. On top of that, Julian has a found family among his group of friends that often stay with Julian and his brother, Rio. I loved this so much and I think this is one of the more underrated family dynamics that I wish we saw more often in books.

“​Growth isn’t a deviation from what we’ve done before, but a natural progression to honor all those who make this community strong.”

Overall, I could write a dozen wonderful things this book does, about all the things that were done right and how much I loved them. I think the best way to go into this book is to know how deeply loved it is by some many people in the book community, how much good this book is going to do for trans youth everywhere, and just the beautiful way Aiden writes. Truly, this is an incredible book that I love with my whole heart. And if there’s one thing you take away from my review, it’s this… I don’t read overly hyped books often, I’m not a person who’s often on the hype train of books by certain authors, but this book truly is worth all the hype and I love it, with my whole heart and soul. The representation throughout this book is incredible and I hope so many readers fall in love with this book.

Buddy Read with Robin at Paperbacks and Planners 🧡

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