Illustrated by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
“Cemetery Boys” is the tale of Yadriel, a trans Brujo trying to prove himself to his family who is too stuck in their ways to accept him as a Brujo. A few days before Dia de Los Muertos, his cousin, Miguel, goes missing. Yadriel tries to find Miguel using his powers but summons the ghost of Julian Diaz instead, a misunderstood trickster who died the same night Miguel went missing.
When I first heard about “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas, I was a little skeptical. Earlier this year, I discussed with my twin about “Love, Victor” on Hulu and what it meant for queer Latinx people like us. We talked about how white-washed it felt, how it didn’t quite grasp the cultural nuances of queer Latinidad. We concluded that it was a show written for white people, not Latinx people. It was marketed as a show celebrating queer brownness and diversity, but it felt like a show in brownface (this is an article for a different time, though).
I preordered “Cemetery Boys” out of curiosity. As aforementioned, I was a little skeptical about the book. I don’t consider myself an avid reader of young adult (YA) fiction, having abandoned the genre in high school because it was usually the same white, cishet narratives we get time and time again. However, I was reintroduced to the genre by books such as “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee and “The Henna Wars” by Adiba Jaigirdar, two LGBTQ+ YA romances. “Cemetery Boys” was recommended to me in August by another OutWrite member, and I was super stoked to see a trans Latino main character. Then, the conversations I had about “Love, Victor” came back to me. I pre-ordered the book anyway.
My copy arrived on Sept. 18, 2020. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, decorated with an illustration of our main character Yadriel, his love interest, Julian, with a lovely depiction of Santa Muerte in the background. It is some of the prettier cover art I’ve seen for a novel in a while. I also love the fact that I can clearly see the characters in my head. Cover art aside, I highly recommend reading the book. Thomas’s writing is filled with vibrancy and life.
I’d like to start off by commending Aiden Thomas on how they wrote about Latinidad as a spectrum just like queerness. Latinidad isn’t a monolith. There are layers, and I think Thomas does a fantastic job at showing the differences within Latinx culture, from talking about the way someone’s accent sounds to the foods and clothing people eat and wear in the book. It is a breath of fresh air, seeing Latinidad written as it should be – solidarity between different diasporas. Care was also put into the descriptions of different diasporas. Not many choose to write Latinidad this way, which is strange because I think there are other things worth celebrating and sharing in our cultures.
Thomas uses Yadriel’s story as a conversation starter about queer Latindad. Queerness doesn’t overshadow the characters’ identity as Latinx and vice versa, a perfect overlap that I think more writers should explore, especially as we go into an age in which diversity is becoming the norm (in a good way!). Intersectionality is important in storytelling, and in this case, it plays a central role in both the plot and how the characters interact with each other.
This was the first YA novel in which I could actually identify with characters who are unapologetically brown. As someone who grew up wanting lighter skin, it’s really awesome to see queer characters with my skin color be the heroes. In a lot of Latinx media, despite the strides we see in representation, we still have Brown and Afro-Latinx people being shown as the villains or cast aside as outcasts. I could see my rambunctious cousins in Julian and I could see a little bit of myself in Yadriel. I could also see my grandmother in Lita.
Thomas writes genuine characters. The chemistry between Yadriel and Julian feels real and not forced. The way their relationship evolves in the book is nice, even though it does feel a little rushed towards the end. I wish we saw more moments of Julian and Yadriel bonding because I loved both of them a lot as characters.
Beyond characters, I really do love the setting of “Cemetery Boys.” It takes place in Los Angeles, in places that I’m familiar with as a Latinx person. To see that being received so well in a novel makes me emotional. These places are being celebrated, as opposed to being seen as “ghetto” or “ugly.” There is beauty in these Latinx neighborhoods that are often deemed violent and places we should be wary of. The way Thomas writes gives me a sense of familiarity, a sense of home, albeit with more magic and Brujeria.
The themes surrounding family and tradition in “Cemetery Boys” are profound, if one actually takes a second to digest what they’re reading.
“Cemetery Boys” presents the two different types of family archetypes: biological family and found family. Thomas writes a surprisingly nuanced take about this, especially in regards to queer folks and how they interact with both of their respective families. Yadriel has his biological family while Julian has his found family. Yadriel grew up with his parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins. Julian only had his older brother and his friends, other queer folks who banded together in a tight-knit group. These different family experiences don’t invalidate Yadriel’s or Julian’s queerness nor negate their ethnicity as Latino boys. These are two boys with two different family experiences, neither one better than the other. Yadriel still has difficulty with his family accepting him while Julian has his own issues to overcome with his brother and friends. While these issues do get resolved at the end, I love the nuance in the queer experience.
Tradition is another important theme in the book. As aforementioned, the book is about Yadriel proving himself to his family. There is a heavy emphasis on what tradition means. Tradition serves as a character motivation, but I think Thomas offers something more profound about tradition. Tradition is whatever we make it. Yadriel was able to change thousand-year-old traditions and even create his own by the end of the novel. I like the idea of this better than completely abolishing tradition or keeping the tradition the same.
Thomas wrote a really amazing book, definitely setting the bar higher for queer Latinx representation in media. I recommend this highly to anyone looking for queer Latinx representation that’s whimsical. Thomas’s second novel Lost in the Never Woods is out now, which I am super stoked to read!
Author: Judah C (They/Them)
Artist: Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
Copy Editors: Angela S, Jaden King (He/They)