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Literature / Cemetery Boys

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Cemetery Boys is the 2020 Young Adult, Queer Romance, fantasy debut novel of Aiden Thomas.

In East Los Angeles, Latinx teen Yadriel wants to become the latest of brujos within his family. The problem? He's transgender and no one in his family, even though they tolerate him, believes it will work "naturally."

Desperate, Yadriel and Maritza, his ride-or-die best friend/cousin, decide to go ahead with an impromptu ritual to receive Lady Death's blessing. Things take a turn when a family member mysteriously dies and disappears without anyone knowing where he is. Hoping to get everyone's good graces and respect (especially his father's) before they're reunited with everybody's deceased relatives for Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), Yadriel tries to summon his missing relative's ghost. And behind everyone's backs.

The problem? He's summoned the wrong ghost. Enter Julian, a recently deceased local bad boy who refuses to leave unless Yadriel checks up on the safety of the former's friends. As they gradually learn each other's situations, their walls are torn down and Yadriel finds it harder to let Julian go...

This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Bilingual Bonus: There's plenty of untranslated Spanish, often with context clues but sometimes not.
  • Blood Magic: The core of all magic. Maritza, being a vegan, refuses to use animal blood and thus can't access her powers until the climax, where she heals Yadriel with his own blood.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Although Yadriel isn't quite normal as a brujo, he's still a living boy falling in love with a ghost.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Early on, it's mentioned that the family can't find their jaguar-claw knives, special ritual weapons that have been passed down for generations. The knives are being used in the murders.
  • Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Blood Magic might be common, but human blood is far too powerful for casual use and unless it's used in very specific ways it will kill the caster. Yadriel saves Julian and Miguel with it and Maritza saves him in turn, with the help of Santa Muerte herself.
  • Friendly Ghost: Most of the ghosts around the cemetery are pretty cool. And of course, all of the brujx who come back for the Day of the Dead.
  • Ghastly Ghost: Ghosts sometimes snap and turn into raging, feral monsters that have to be freed and purified by brujos. It happens to Tito early in the book, and Julian is terrified when he starts showing signs.
  • Heritage Disconnect: Downplayed. Julian lost his parents and while he's still connected to his heritage, some things are still too painful for him. Notably, he doesn't speak Spanish until near the end of the book.
  • I Can't Sense Their Presence: What kicks off the murder mystery. All of the brujx could feel Miguel's death, but none of them can summon his ghost to find out why.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Yadriel falls deeply in love with Julian, but Julian doesn't want to become a monster and asks Yadriel to cut him free. He struggles with it, but ultimately decides to do it. However, Julian is not quite dead.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Julian. He's abrasive and has a "bad boy" reputation, but he's soon revealed to deeply love his friends and is angry because he's very tired of a world that abuses them.
  • Last Day to Live: Well, he's already dead, but once Julian decides to pass on, Yadriel spends the last day doing everything Julian wants, from grabbing the best snacks for the ritual to stealing a car to going to a beach party.
  • The Magic Goes Away: The brujx used to casually resurrect people and command storms, but now they're psychopomps and healers with less magic in every generation.Subverted in that it's not lessening but changing, and the brujx need to adapt to it.
  • Missing Mom: Yadriel's mother has passed on prior to the plot. Because she was his biggest advocate when he first started transitioning, her passing still stings as he struggles to maintain his gender identity within his traditionalist family.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Downplayed. Yadriel's uncle Catriz has some ability to sense spirits, but no "true" brujo magic. He and Yadriel bond over being the black sheep, and it drives him to commit murders to try and claim the power he thinks he's owed.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: A variation. Yadriel's deadname comes up sometimes, but the book never reveals it, using phrases like "he used my deadname" instead.
  • Only Mostly Dead: The missing victims are killed by being stabbed in the chest with a jaguar claw knife and left to slowly bleed into the ritual pit. Julian, as the latest victim, hasn't quite bled out yet, so Yadriel's able to save him.
  • Promotion to Parent: Julian's older brother essentially raised him. This wasn't easy for either of them, and Julian feels like he's a burden and his brother will be better off now he's dead.
  • Supernaturally-Validated Trans Person:
    • The plot of Cemetery Boys revolves around Yadriel's desire to become a brujo, but his family won't let him because their magic is gender specific (women heal, men help spirits pass on). His family is convinced he'll be let down if he tries brujo magic because they don't think he's a real man, and refuse to let him try. Cue Yadriel going behind their backs to prove them wrong and kickstarting the plot when he successfully summons a spirit. By the end, not only has Lady Death herself confirmed he's a brujo, but he's become the first brujo in centuries to resurrect the dead.
    • On the flip side, Yadriel tried bruja magic once. The result badly maimed the cat he was trying to heal, and he never tried again.
  • Transparent Closet: When Yadriel comes out as trans to Maritza after worrying what her reaction will be, she is very nonchalant and immediately accepts him without question.
  • Trans Tribulations: Yadriel is a transgender boy. A large source of conflict of the story is Yadriel desperate to prove he's a "real" brujo, despite what his traditionalist family thinks. Thanks to Julian, he realizes he doesn't need their permission to be who he is.
  • Utility Magic: Brujas who are good at healing go into medical professions and use magic as well as science to help their patients.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: Julian is eager to solve his own murder, as he's afraid his friends are being targeted as well.
  • Willfully Weak: Bruja healing requires animal blood to work, so Maritza, as a committed vegan, never uses her magic. When Yadriel gets stabbed, she uses his own blood to activate her powers to save him.
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: The protagonist Yadriel likes to spend his time with his cousin and best friend, Maritza, and Julian, who's introduced by being literally summoned into the plot. A large part of the story consists of the boys bonding with each other's company.