My rating: 5 of 5 stars
CW: violence, mis-gendering, exploration of parent death, references to blood magic and rituals
First things first, narrator Avi Roque does an amazing job reading this book. I was glad to see that not only is the book #ownvoices, but so is the narration! Please note that some knowledge of Spanish is good to have when you’re reading the book because several characters speak it and there is no direct translation in the text. This is one of the best debut novels I’ve read this year.
Our protagonist Yadriel is a gay trans man whose traditional Latinx family is having problems accepting his gender. Traditionally, women (brujas) heal and men (brujos) protecc/find spirits/release them. At the age of fifteen, boys are presented to Lady Death for a blessing to become a brujo and receive their portaje, a dagger that allows them to draw blood to direct their magic to cut the ties between spirits and this world to send them off to the afterlife before they become malevolent. Girls also go through the ceremony at age fifteen, where they receive a blessing to become brujas and receive a rosary as their portaje, that allows them to heal using (generally) animal blood.
Yadriel’s family has not allowed him to participate in his quinces ceremony, and it has been at least a year since he turned fifteen. Signs point to them not allowing him to perform the ritual because they are unsure if the ritual would work for him. Tired of being an outsider, he teams up with his cousin/best friend Maritza, one of his only family members who accepts him as he is. Maritza is also a bit of an outsider in the family; though she did go through her quinces ceremony to become a bruja, she is a vegan and refuses to use animal blood to heal. Her dad forges the ritual daggers they use, and she secretly forges one for Yadriel. He successfully performs the ceremony to become a brujo in secret.
Then, his cousin Miguel goes missing and is suspected as dead. Yadriel and Maritza try to go looking for their cousin, including Yadriel attempting to summon his spirit. They go to an old church on the cemetery property where they live, and find a necklace with a medallion. Yadriel uses this medallion to summon who he thinks is the spirit of Miguel, but accidentally summons the spirit of Julian, a “bad boy” he knows from school. Since his family doesn’t know he actually performed the ritual, Yadriel needs to hide Julian from the rest of his family. Which is pretty difficult since they’re a family of brujos and brujas who can usually see spirits.
There’s a short interview between the narrator and author at the end of the version I listened to, which gave me hope that there will be further adventures with these characters. I’d especially love to see a book with Maritza as the lead character.
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Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is a wonderful queer YA debut novel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars