Publication date : September 1st, 2020
Publisher : Swoon Reads | Macmillan
Genre : Young Adult |Fantasy, romance
Page Count: 352
Synopsis: Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
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. (from Goodreads)
CW: : death of a loved one, talk of loss of a parent, misgendering, mention of parental abuse, mention of transphobic parents and deportation.
Genuine question: How do you review a book that feels like it nudge a piece of yourself forward, shifted it slowly to make you click in place and make that slight feeling of wrongness go away? If you think I’m being hyperbolic, I am not. Cemetery Boys brought me more than I can put into words and I have been struggling to write this review for over a month, always putting it off to tomorrow, because maybe then I’ll wake up with the words to do it justice, but at this point, I don’t think that will happen and all I can do is give it my best shot.
The writing is fairly simple, straight forward and quick to read at first glance, and while all of that does hold true, it’s also beautiful in the fact that it burrows itself deep into the reader’s soul and hits you with the most beautiful quotable lines that live you thinking about them for a while afterwards. Quotes that although specific, can and will speak to a lot of people and maybe, just for a moment, make them feel less alone. And that’s exactly what it did for me, reading Cemetery Boys felt like home, it shone a light on some of deepest darkest corners of my soul and said “hey, I got you. I see you. All of you. Even these tiny bits and pieces that you have been looking away from”. This book made me feel seen in ways I didn’t expect or account for when going in, it made me smile, made me rage, made my cry and laugh. Oh and it’s also really fucking funny.
This book is equally fun, funny and joyful as it is at time sad, heartbreaking and painful, and for me, that’s where its strength lies. Cemetery Boys is one of the most, if not *the* most nuanced book I have ever read in term of its exploration of queerness, transness, and the way both of these things are treated in brown patriarchal communities. In this specific case, it’s the Latinx community, but you can broaden it to encompass other brown communities, as a lot of them mirror each other in the way they treat all the above as well as identity, family and community. Yadriel is a trans boy whose only wish is to be accepted in his brujx community as a brujo, which is a thing that has always been denied to him. While on a surface level Yadriel’s community seems like they’re accepting him, using his chosen name as well as his correct pronouns, on a second look, you find that he is anything but. This acceptance feels like humoring him, because when it comes to real test, to giving him his quinces and thus access to his brujo powers, they refuse to do so. Waiting for something to change, maybe for him to “grow out” of being a boy, for him to finally relent and be ready to accept the “girl” powers.
And that was really hard to read at times, that half-acceptance feels almost more painful than outright rejection, because you can feel Yadriel toying an invisible line with his loved ones where they accept him just enough that any anger towards them feels unjustified because they’re “giving” him what he wants, right? his name and pronouns? But their microaggressions and rejection of his gender are so insidious, so much so that they made me jerk back at times, like his dad telling him to “stay with the other women”, his grandma calling him by his name and telling him that he’ll always be her little girl in the same breath. This book shows that rejection isn’t always done in big bold strokes and statements, it’s not always kicking out, cussing out and disowning, it can come in the form of tiny needles that poke and prick and leech out until there’s nothing to take anymore.
There is also such a great discussion of “coming first” in this book, how even though it feels like it, it is literally impossible that in centuries if not millennia for Yadriel to be the first Brujx to defy the very strict binary gender norms set upon the community, and that allows for the criticism of the whole Brujos/Brujas have distinct set of powers, because what about non-binary Brujx? And that opens up a door of speculations as to what those powers might look like, and how maybe if those gendered constructs powers are being tied to were to be taken down, so many types of powers could emerge and be unlocked and I am going to shut up now, because this book gave me many galaxy brain moments and this was one of them, which I could write a whole thesis about.
Cemetery Boys also challenges that question that a lot of queer brown folks get faced with when coming out and being faced with rejection, which is “why don’t you just leave?” and it shows that for many, community is crucial, we grow up with a sense of community deeply rooted in us so it’s not something that you can just up and decide to leave and most of the time you don’t even WANT to leave it, so you just want a happy middle, you compromise, you fold yourself in to keep your community. And the book also shows *why* community is so important. In a sense, community is culture, everything circles back to your community. Food, customs, joys, sorrows, celebrations, etc… your community is an extension of your family. And it bring joy and sense of belonging. It’s so deeply engrained that for most, leaving isn’t even an option they want or will ever consider. Because no matter how flawed, we love our communities, and in their owned imperfect, sometimes painful way, they love us too.
Yadriel as a main character is so easy to love and root for, and all he wants is to be embraced, loved and accepted, no ors, ifs or buts. No asterixis. He wants to loved wholly and unconditionally. Not only by others but by himself as well. Through the book, we see him chase his community’s acceptance, but during a conversation with Julian he has a oh moment where Julian asks him “is it not enough for them, or for you?” and that’s when Yadriel realizes that maybe, just maybe, he’s also looking to prove to himself that he is “boy enough”, that he is worthy of the powers he oh so desires. You can see he’s internalized every single rejection and with time it turned into him waiting to be given permission to be himself, like a knife, carving and eroding at his being. I felt his pain as my own, felt his joy as my own, felt every single one of his emotions resonating and vibrating deep within the folds of my heart.
Then we have Julian, the most loveable and the most lively ghost you will ever meet, whom I am ready to sell my soul for. Julian brought me SO much joy. He is so full of life and energy that it’s almost dizzying. He’s cocky and funny and so loving and caring, one of those people who give and give and give but still don’t see themselves as worth receiving. He’s also hot headed and reckless and angry but that just makes him flawed and human and so perfectly himself. A boy who laughs in the face of almost everything and mixes up his idioms so heartwarmingly. It’s also understandable, you know, because of the whole being dead and summoned situation.
My favorite thing about Julian’s character (aside from all of the above) is how he was used as a device to subverts one of the most popular tropes in YA fiction: The bad boy trope. Before his death, Julian had a reputation, and not a good one. He was known to be bad, broody, dangerous, to hang out with the wrong crowds, to not care about school, or anything really, “drugs and guns” were always associated with his name. And for what? Because life has been rough? Because he’s a brown kid with a mother he never really knew and a father who died? Because school isn’t accessible to him so he has decided not to waste his time in a system that was designed to fail him? But the Julian we get is none of the above, these are all stories people made up about him after sparing a single glance his way. The Julian we get to know and love is goofy, loving and caring. He’s a kid doing his best with the hand he was dealt and this really shows how many kids who are deemed “bad boys” , scorned and marginalized even further are often kids who need a helping hand.
As if everything I just said wasn’t enough, let me cry over the cutest thing I have ever read: Yadriel and Julian’s relationship. It is truly one of the most tender, heart-achingly sweet and healthy romances I have ever read. Not just in YA, but ever. The way the two of them reluctantly come together, the way the grow to care so deeply and selflessly about each other but most importantly the deep respect and implicit trust between them that was shown and littered through the book in countless small moments that might seem insignificant but carry all the meaning and weight of their love for each other. In the way that Julian not only accepts Yadriel’s gender without question but also wordlessly eases situations and concerns for him. In the way that Yadriel learns what makes Julian tick and not only calls him out when he lets it get the best of him but also talks him down from the edge of the metaphorical precipice. In the way that the two of them grow so utterly comfortable around each other. Their relationship just fills my heart to the brim with light and joy.
Could I keep going? Yes. There is still so much to say: about Maritza, Yadriel’s cousin who’s the MVP and always has his back, about the contrast between Yadriel’s blood family and Julian’s found one, so much more to say about the implicit discussions of transness and queerness inside the pages of Cemetery Boys, and so many more topics. It honestly feels like I’m only grazing the surface with this review, but it’s long enough as it is, so I’m stopping myself here.
Do I recommend?
YES. Yes, please read this book. Buy it for your friends. Especially if you know a queer and/or trans kid. I really wish and hope brown trans kids, and especially latinx trans kids find their way to this book.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read Cemetery Boys If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.