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, don't believe 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 savr 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.