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Spooky season is finally here! In between candies and costumes, some people like to watch Halloween movies. Meanwhile, some of us love to read. So, what better way to spend this holiday other than being wrapped up in a blanket while reading Cemetery Boys? But prepare your tissues, this is going to be a roller coaster of emotions!

Aiden Thomas’ young adult (YA) debut novel is filled with spirits, family, Latinx culture and love. This author tells the story of a trans latino boy trying to prove to his family, and himself, who he truly is. Yadriel, struggling with the traditions of his Latinx family, and what it means to be a true brujo, decides to perform his quince ritual without guidance, alongside his cousin Maritza. Following the questionable death of his cousin Miguel, Yadriel tries to help his family by summoning a spirit. The thing is… he summoned Julian Díaz, the wrong spirit, who also happens to be the “bad boy” from his school. Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian thus embark on a journey to release Julian, find out what happened to Miguel, and prove himself to his familyーall while Yadriel fights his emotions for the hot and dead boy he has summoned.

There’s a key factor to this story we must first acknowledge to understand the importance of it: the realistic and necessary representation. We have Latinx kids struggling with their identities, sexualities, families and harmful stereotypes. With a lighthearted, natural dialogue and engaging writing, the author manages to deal with these sensitive issues and delivers them swiftly with the care and sensibility they require. These topics were explored not only in the plot, but through the characters themselves.

Our sixteen-year-old protagonist, Yadriel Vélez Flores, is a funny and sarcastic teen that had me screaming, laughing and crying. His big heart is full of love and hope. At the end of the day, he just wants to be understood and acknowledged as the brujo he is. For me, bravery is one of his most important and prevalent personality traits. He went from living a life where he had to be constantly educating people for the sole reason that he exists differently from the “norm” to performing his quince rituals without the assistance of his family and summoning a ghost just to prove that he could. His family wouldn’t even let him try to do the ritual to prove that he was actually a boy, because “it was easier to hide behind their traditions than to challenge their own beliefs.” 

In queer stories, we tend to see one of two outcomes when LGTBQ+ characters come out: acceptance or rejection. However, in this story, we see a new, more realistic reaction, a gray area of passive rejection, where Yadriel’s family stood regarding his gender and sexuality. More often than not, gender is a harder concept to understand for older, traditional generations. This leads trans folks to shoulder certain responsibilities that others in the community can’t relate to, but Yadriel’s stubbornness gave him the strength to handle difficult situations even with his endearing awkwardness. 

“He was a boy made of fire who’d be turned to frost. He was meant to burn.” -Yadriel

On the other hand, we have my dearest spirit, the boy who was classified as the school resident’s bad boy, Julian Díaz. But is he really a bad boy or is it just the kind of harmful stereotypes directed at people of color (POC)? When I started to get to know Julian, I quickly realized that he’s just a boy that has had to go through difficult times, which ultimately shaped him into the strong and deeply caring boy that he is. He is such a himbo and so funny! He literally had me laughing out loud with his witty remarks and his nonexisting filter. He’s headstrong and impulsive, with a bit of a temper, but if there’s one thing about Julian that is worth mentioning, it’s how profoundly and strongly he cares about the ones he loves, to the point that he would die for them.

Yadriel and Julian’s chemistry is, to put it quite plainly, unmatched. Not even two minutes into having known each other, they were already bickering like an old married couple. I love how Julian was constantly making Yadriel want to be the best version of himself. Even after all the hurt, Yadriel still loved his family with all his heart and that’s the part that affected me the most. Sometimes, the people we love the most are the ones who hurt us in ways that they would never imagine. This topic leads me to talk about the contrast between Yadriel and Julian’s journey. Whilst Yadriel struggled to make his family understand him and his identity back home, Julian had a delightful and supportive extended family, made up of his found family of other queer people and “outcasts”, that cared deeply for him. For example, this contrast is shown when they were discussing the subject of their sexualities, “He’d [Julian] said it almost as a challenge. In a way that said he didn’t care what you thought,” as Yadriel described. Julian was always unapologetically himself, embracing his homosexuality and his identity just as he was. Meanwhile, Yadriel had problems even acknowledging his own identity out loud. He only had Maritza, his cousin and best friend. However, she was also considered to be the black sheep of the family, so it’s a different kind of support for Yadriel altogether. 

I need to take a second and admire Maritza. She’s one of the most loyal characters I had the pleasure to read. She’s even my favorite character in the book. Throughout the story, she never once doubted Yadriel. Instead, she supported him in his identity-defining journey. She respects her culture even when she doesn’t follow or agree with the same traditional steps she’s been raised in, and is so strong and perfect. We all deserve a Maritza in our lives; or, even better, to be more like her. 

The inclusiveness of the characters made my heart feel warm and represented. Latinx people are diverse; we come from different parts, but our love is what unites us. The author is a Latinx queer trans person and it shows, because he actually delivered the representation that we deserved. Little details in the book like how hard it was to navigate pronouns when language, especially Spanish, is gender-based, show me that the author made this book from a place full of love and understanding. The Latinx culture was masterfully portrayed, as well. You can see it in the character’s accents, how the older people tended to speak in Spanish more than in English, the delicious food, the stained tupperware, and the vivaporú as the Latinx cure-all. “Ponte vivaporú en el pecho antes de irte a dormir para que se te quite el catarro,” is a phrase that probably every Latinx has heard in their life. Another beautiful detail was how smoothly and seamlessly Aiden Thomas translated the Spanish sentences in the same scene. I almost didn’t notice because my native language is Spanish, but this helped the book to have more authentic representation of Latinx culture.

“Queer folks are like wolves, Julian told him. We travel in packs.”

When I read this book for the first time, I cried. When I read it for a second time… I cried too. What can I say, finding a book that makes you think “this is me,” as if it was a mirror of yourself and your experience, is quite an emotional ordeal. There’s something so beautiful when you’re able to relate to the characters in a deeper sense. It’s as if the author wrote this just for you, to smooth all the wrongness in you and whisper, “I see you. You’re loved. You’re valid.” If I have to rate this book, it would definitely be a 5/5. This book goes in the list of my comfort books.

If you’re still wondering if this is the right book for you, here’s a list of tropes that you will find in this story: chosen family, misunderstood “bad boy,” terms of endearment in native language, Latinx magic, and rivals to lovers…or more like “you’re annoying” to lovers.

Nahiria I. Rivera Dieppa is a student from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus. She's studying Creative Writing with a second concentration in Public Relations and Publicity. She loves her books more than anything, and is passionate about music.
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