Monday, August 16, 2021

Cemetery Boys, by Aiden Thomas

Swoon Books, ISBN 9781250250469, September 2020

Yadriel is a Latinx teenager with a traditional family, and hopes to be a true brujo. He's got the talent. He's of an age to have the ceremony pledging himself to Lady Death, and becoming a true brujo.

The problem: Yadriel's very traditional family is convinced he's their daughter, not their son. They expect him to become a bruja, a form of magic for which he has no gift. Finally, with the help of his best friend, his cousin Maritza, he performs the ritual himself--successfully. Lady Death, at least, accepts him as a real brujo.

But he still has to prove it to his family and the rest of their community. The sudden death and disappearance of another cousin provides a chance to provide that proof while doing real good for the community.

He sets out to summon his cousin's ghost.

Instead, he summons the ghost of a fellow high school student who is a bit of a bad boy, rumored to be a gang member--and now recently dead. The ghost, Julian Diaz, wants to know what happened to him, and if his friends are all right. He absolutely refuses to be released to the next world until he does.

Yadriel thinks just being trans and refusing to hide it is enough of an attention-getter, and tries to otherwise keep a low profile. Julian is loud, ostentatious, and loves attracting attention. And while sometimes Maritza is helpful (in Yadriel's opinion), other times she seems to be egging Julian on.

Meanwhile, Yadriel's cousin Miguel is clearly dead (the entire brujo/bruja community felt it), and his body is missing. It needs to be found, so that Miguel's spirit can be released to the next world.

Julian's body is also missing. His friends don't know he's dead, though they're worried because he's missing. And, it seems, so are two other young people, with no indication of what happened to them.

And Yadriel's abuelita, as part of her preparation for the celebration of  the Day of the Dead, is looking for an old magical relic, one with dark implications, but which needs to be present.

None of these things are as unconnected as they at first appear.

We get a fascinating look at Latinx beliefs and practices around the Day of the Dead, in a fantasy setting that's rich and detailed and absorbing. The characters are well-developed, and the story itself completely drew me in. I'd had doubts at first, but once I started reading, it was hard to put down despite some pretty disruptive and distracting events going on in my own life. I just had to find out what happened!

Highly recommended.

I received this book as part of the 2021 Hugo Voters Packet, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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