Hello there, friends!
I’ve been meaning to post for a few days, but I’ve taken up a new hobby: journaling, and it’s kinda taken over my life (which is an understatement 🤭). It’s been years since I’ve been consumed by a hobby, basically ever since summer 2016 when I became a bookworm, so it’s been pretty time-consuming in the best way possible. It is so relaxing and fun, and I anticipate I’ll be listening to many audiobooks while I work on my bujo. But since I’ve finally started it, I expect to finally get to blogging.
I am quite scared to share this post with you all today, because everyone and their mother has loved this, so I’m definitely in the minority here. But I didn’t want the anticipation that I had cloud my judgement, as I always like to be upfront about all my opinions. So, excuse me while I drop my critical review of Aiden Thomas’ debut, Cemetery Boys. I am in pain typing this, so let’s quickly get to it before I die.
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.
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I really don’t know how to talk about Cemetery Boys because yes, it is a good book and one that I will recommend to a lot of people from now on. It was easily in my top 3 anticipated releases of the year and I’d been screaming about how badly I wanted to read it for months and months on end. So I’m more surprised than anyone else that I came out of this reading experience feeling pretty underwhelmed and disappointed.
Even the positive aspects are ones I could fault because this book is nowhere near perfect. I really think that this novel should’ve been subjected to several more rounds of extensive editing, because its flaws weigh down the story so much it’s hard to ignore them and immerse yourself. I obviously still have some hope, as the author had previously stated that the finished copy is very different to the ARC version, so I’m crossing my fingers that my critiques are ones that are nonexistent in the hardcovers. But alas, since this is the edition that I read, I’ll be as transparent as possible.
The one saving grace of this book is Julian Díaz, who immediately became one of my new favorite YA characters. His personality and essence jumps out of the page and his characterization is on point. He’s the utter definition of vibrance and color, and he’s so special. Julian is someone I really identified to. Not only are we both chaotic Scorpios, he is fiercely protective of those he loves and would literally die for all of them. He is caring and lovable, and may come off as rude, but he’s just being honest and telling the truth, and I just: felt that.
He has a lot of trouble focusing on one thing at a time (also me) and mostly gives off bad boy vibes, but is essentially just a teen guy going through the motions, who is emotional, sensitive, expressive, and doesn’t shy away from saying what’s on his mind (me, again).
Julian is always up to no good; being mischievous is kind of his hobby. He is the epitome of an Agent of Chaos™️. But again, he’s also vulnerable and doesn’t let anyone stomp over him. He’s all the colors of this world in one, an absolute rainbow, and a character I will love forever.
However, besides Julian, it pains me to say that I didn’t care about anyone or anything else in this book. Yes, Yadriel and Maritza are really cool characters, easy to root for and fall in love with, but unfortunately, that was not the case for me. I was unable to connect to them and the rest of the cast. Plus, to me, there was a severe lack of character depth.
Yadriel’s only personality trait was proving himself as a brujo. I never got a feel for his passions or interests. He wanted to show his family what he was capable of because well, that’s the whole point of the story, and there’s not space for anything else. Sadly, I found him to be pretty flat.
I feel like the rest of the characters really represented Latinidad, but I see myself forgetting them in just a few weeks, as their characters were never explored. All of their existences felt purely convenient, which is a shame cause I believe there was real potential here to flesh out and develop these characters. We knew them, but not really.
Another big problem of mine was the plot and the pacing, which I’m mentioning in the same section because I feel like they go hand-in-hand. A lot of the time, it felt like the plotline was just stagnant, going in circles, with no true lead-up or destination, as we were never really uncovering or discovering any new information that made this interesting. There was no sense of intrigue or mystery, which made me sad. The stakes almost didn’t matter because we only had a deadline, and no substance. Imagining how badass of a murder mystery this could’ve been devastates me. 😭
And the pacing was simply not great. The line that told us when things were taking place was not drawn accurately and instead was very murky? I struggled a lot to know when events were going down and I had zero idea how much time was passing from moment to moment because the narration jumped around like an unstill rabbit. I don’t like saying this cause I never do, but this really, really read like a debut. The writing was so repetitive at times, and we got constantly told the same stuff.
And because it felt like the plot was going nowhere, when in the last 40 pages we got hit we a ton of action and reveals out of nowhere, it felt like whiplash. So much was happening and I just had no time to process it all. We got dumped with all of this new information to solve the conflict that was quite obvious and felt like painfully stereotypical villainy. We literally get a VILLAIN SPEECH, and not even a good one.
Plus, I don’t know how comfortable I feel with the villain turning out to be one of Yadriel’s only support systems, and we feel no real emotions coming from him about this. He just defeats this villain in one chapter in a very lack-luster fight and that’s it, we don’t talk about it again.
The other problem with this final fight, besides me guessing the plot twist, is that when it happened, it was supposed to click on my brain due to information that was revealed about Balham and his banishing to Xibalba. But another serious issue with Cemetery Boys was the severe info dump throughout. We learn so much about how the magic and the world of the brujx works, but it’s not developed in a concise way. We got rapid-fire shots of info at various intervals in the story, and the moment when we learn about Balham and Xibalba, this happens too. It all happened so fast, I couldn’t absorb it, which affected how much I cared about the climactic moment.
The one aspect I think Cemetery Boys nails is the essence and importance of found family, which was beautifully captured, though I wish it’d had more time to shine. And of course, the brilliant trans representation which really touched me and I know will positively impact many gender non-conforming Latinx teens. Another thing I didn’t expect but honestly enjoyed a lot was all the different Latinx cultures that got their own seat at the magical table: Ecuadorian, Puerto Rican (yes, I screamed at the mi amol), Mexican, Cuban, and so many more, showing that unity within Latinx communities and how much stronger we are together.
Overall, Thomas’ debut is good, not great, and I was ultimately let down by all its technical issues, the very, very rushed ending, undeveloped characters, and how much I didn’t ship Yadriel and Julian, as I think they didn’t really have romantic chemistry and Iwould’ve much preferred them as friends, but that’s totally on me and my lack of connection. 😅
Regardless, this is an important and monumental story and I could not be happier that it’s getting published.
Rating: 2 stars ⭐️
Huge thank you to Cande @ Latinx Magic for sending this ARC my way and also listening to all my rambles related to the book! ❤
If you enjoyed this review, consider voting for me in the 2020 Book Blogger Awards in the category of Best Teen Book Blogger in the form here! No pressure tho, especially as I’m nominated along some amazing creators! Voting closes this Sunday, August 16th at 11:59PM CDT.
And that concludes this blog post! *runs* 🏃🏃🏃
I’m pretty sure this review will get me banished from the YA book community, but it’s okay, I have accepted my fate!
Have you read Cemetery Boys? If so, what did you think? Do you agree with any of my opinions? (Most of you definitely don’t and that’s okay, haha!)
Lesson of the day: not every Ownvoices book is for every Ownvoices reader, and QPOC authors are not exempt of criticism.
I hope you all enjoyed, and I’ll see you on the next one!