Narrator: Avi Roque
Published by MacMillan Audio
Published on 1 September 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Death & Dying, Love & Romance, Paranormal, United States, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.
When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.
Cemetery Boys is an #ownvoices book about a gay trans Latinx boy trying to prove his place in his community: he believes that if he can prove he is a brujo, a kind of Latino witchdoctor who can summon, guide, and banish the spirits of the departed, instead of one of the traditionally feminine healing brujas, his community will accept him as a boy. To do this, he accidentally summons the spirit of a bad boy classmate, who only fellow brujex can actually see.
To be honest, I really want to add, ‘together the two must solve a mystery before Julian can move on’ but the book is so not about solving mysteries, it is 100% about the romantic relationship between Yadriel and Julian. I mean, there is a kind of mystery, in that Julian can’t remember how he was killed or where his body is, and there’s also a kind of half-hearted attempt at Yadriel’s cousin who is missing, presumed dead, but it’s not really urgent at all to find the missing cousin since Dios de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead, which I learned a lot about in this book) is on in a couple of days, and brujex spirits come back on that day and Yadriel’s cousin can just… tell everyone what happened to him then? So it’s not, like… imperative… that they find him. I called this a false sense of urgency since there are really no stakes. “We need to do this before Dio de los Muertos, for reasons, but we don’t really need to since Cousin will just tell us when he comes back to visit” was incredibly poor motivation – but only if you consider it important to the plot, which it was not.
I think I would have liked this book more if it was more plot and less romance. Specifically because the romance wasn’t particularly romantic. I would have liked it if there was some kind of tension since Julian is in ghost form and they can’t physically touch, but it seemed strangely absent. There were some really nice vulnerable moments from both Yadriel and Julian as their relationship turned genuine and meaningful, and I could tell that they were beginning to care about each other, but there was like… no real emotional feelings? There was some fluttery tummy reactions from Yads but I just wasn’t feeling it between the two. They could have been friends instead of romantic interests. However, I did really like that Julian 100% accepted Yadriel right from the beginning.
They lacked chemistry: they bickered and fought a lot, and they had the weirdest motivation for doing what they did. Julian, who was infuriatingly obnoxious at first, insisted they go see his friends to see if they are all right, but when they do, he just leaves Yadriel to try to explain why some stranger wants to talk to them, since Yadriel doesn’t even want to talk to them or even know what to say. Similarly when when they visit Julian’s older brother and guardian, the motivation there is very poor. Julian just throws a tantrum both times and storms away, and since no one but Yadriel can see him, and Yadriel has no motivation to do these tasks outside of Julian, the whole thing was super awkward and seemed really forced. Julian even talked Yadriel into stealing a car – no consequences for Julian of course, since he’s a ghost, but Yadriel was taking a serious risk and nothing really came of it.
I was also disappointed that there was no real antagonist for the majority of the book. Again, this is related to plot: no one really considered that someone might have done something to Yadriel’s cousin, so no one was looking for a villain. But again, Yadriel’s missing cousin wasn’t important. Julian thought he and a friend had been attacked, but hadn’t seen who had attacked him, and how do you find an unknown stranger in East Los Angeles anyway? So everyone was just kind of wandering around. Basically Julian was forced to hang around with Yadriel. That’s basically the plot. Ghost boy is stuck here until wannabe brujo releases him, potentially in front of his family, because that proves he has the right kind of magic. To be honest, Yadriel didn’t really think his plan through either.
On the plus side, the writing was really lovely from a technical standpoint. It was vibrant and wonderful in its descriptions and totally sucked me in. I also feel that since this was #ownvoices, we got a really good insight into Yadriel’s feelings about being trans, not really being accepted by his whole community, the latinx community in general. Basically everything that markets this book as interesting and different to your typical YA paranormal romance was really well done. It’s the similarities to other YA paranormal, the false sense of urgency, the lack of a real or considered antagonist for most of the book, and lack of a real plot beyond ‘dating the ghost boy’ that stops me from giving it 5 stars.
So basically, if you want a decent romance, by all means go for it, but if you want a romance that involves a gay trans latinx magical boy and a bad boy latinx ghost, definitely go for it. Just don’t expect an actual plot. I listened to the audio book delightfully read by Avi Roque which I really enjoyed.