Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is another of what I would call "fair-to-middling" debut novels: there are good things about it, but at the same time, it falls prey to some typical first-novel problems. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who will love it to bits, but I'm not quite one of them.
The best part of this book is the vibrant, detailed culture of the brujx, the guardians of the dead. It feels lived-in and real. Our protagonist, a trans boy named Yadriel, has been denied his quince, his initiation as a brujo, and he is determined to prove he is as capable as the other members of his family. He takes it upon himself to perform the ritual, summons a ghost...and ends up with the wrong one, a ghost he doesn't know what to do with.
This is juxtaposed with a murder mystery, the death of Yadriel's cousin Miguel. Unfortunately, this promising setup is sidetracked by the focus on Yadriel's unwanted ghost Julian Diaz and the romance that develops. (A very quick romance at that, as this entire book takes place over the span of four days. I'm not fond of insta-love stories, and this is a prime example. The relationship feels way too rushed, not to mention the fact that Julian is, y'know, dead...until he isn't. His resurrection isn't very believable either.) The lack of attention to the mystery means that when we do return to it and the murderer is revealed, the villain ends up being a cliche and his motivation weak.
Yadriel and Julian are well-drawn characters, as is his cousin Maritza. Yadriel's struggle for acceptance by his family was another of the better elements of the book, and I also loved Maritza's loyalty and fierceness. So I guess that, for me, the characters and their culture was the best part of this book, and the plot...less so. This is still a promising debut, and the author is worth keeping your eye on.
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