Continue below to read my review of the book and interview with Aiden Thomas! Be sure to follow this link - [TOUR SCHEDULE] to check out the rest of the stops on 'CEMETERY BOYS' blog tour brought to you by XPRESSO BOOK TOURS, SWOON READS/MACMILLAN PUBLISHING, and AIDEN THOMAS! And don't forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the interview for a chance to win your very own copy!
☆★☆ Interview with Aiden Thomas ☆★☆
If you could spend time a character from your book whom would it be? And what would you do during that day?
That’s such a hard question! I love Yadriel and Maritza, but I think I’d have to go with Julian. He’s just so chaotic and ridiculous, I think we’d get along really well! One of the best parts about Julian — though Yadriel may disagree — is how impulsive he is. I don’t think he’d come up with a game plan, I’m pretty sure we’d just randomly decide in the moment but there would definitely be a lot of shenanigans involved!
How did writing this story impact you personally?
I thought there was no way I could ever sell a book with a trans main character, let alone one that was Latinx or gay, on top of it. I honestly didn’t think they would want a story with a main character who was gay, trans, and Latinx. Maybe one, but not all three. Since it was my option book, it was more a conversation with my editor rather than a proper querying process of an agent. The whole pitch was definitely just me nervously asking permission to write this character and this story. I was so convinced it would be too queer, or too Latinx, or too trans. That, itself is so wild — that I thought my marginalizations were so un-marketable that it would be impossible to successfully pitch. The funny part was that my incredible editor at Macmillan, Holly West, was absolutely thrilled and immediately said that was the book she wanted out of all my ideas. My team has been absolutely champions for me and Yadriel from the very beginning and I am so thankful and lucky!
What was the hardest scene to write?
I think the final chapter was definitely the most difficult to write. I wanted to end the book with a really powerful speech from Yadriel’s dad. I put a lot of pressure on myself because that scene was so important to not only Yadriel, but to trans readers who picked up the book. I actually pulled inspiration from traditional speeches made during quinces but gave it a twist fitting the story and the brujx.
Tell me about one of your favorite reader reactions you’ve gotten from this book.
I genuinely love interacting with readers on Twitter! I always crack up when people tag me in memes or funny posts and say stuff like, “This is Yadriel and Julian!” It’s also incredible to see folks really connecting with Yadriel and his story, and I especially get overwhelmed with warm fuzzy feelings when people make fanart! Never in a million years would I have thought I’d actually publish a book like this. It’s totally wild and so rewarding.
What do you hope people take with them from their reading experience with your book?
I really hope readers will find connection and feel seen when they read “Cemetery Boys”. I wanted to create a story for readers to connect with Yadriel on universal truths that are basic to the human experience, things like struggling to fit in, feeling accepted for who you are, and being loved. A lot of queer teens experience their first sense of belonging or affirmation with queer characters in books — like Yadriel. Even if they can’t talk to them personally, seeing people with their identities, seeing themselves reflected in books, or internet stars telling them they’re valid gives them a sense of community and comfort. I really hope Yadriel can be that for some folks.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That’s a tough question but I’m going to go with HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diane Wynn Jones! I feel like everyone has seen the Studio Ghibli adaptation, but not a lot of folks have actually read the original book. Howl is so dramatic and I love Sophie’s wit! It’s my favorite book to reread when I need a pick-me-up.
Thank you to @Kathreadsya on Instagram for submitting these great questions as well:
If you had the power to summon a ghost like Yadriel, would you do it? And if so, who would you summon?
ABSOLUTELY! I love ghosts and actually spent a lot of time as a teenager hanging out in Mountain View Cemetery, but I’ve never had a paranormal encounter! It’s really disappointing. And it’d be especially handy during quarantine!
Do you write listening to music? If so, what music inspired or accompanied this current book?
Yes, I definitely do Make playlists for all my books and characters that I listen to while writing. For “Cemetery Boys”, songs by Troye Sivan and Khalid inspired my writing for Yadriel, while Julian’s playlist has a lot of reggaeton.
"Am I dead?"
"Oh, Jesus." -- "My brother is gonna kill me.."
"Looks like someone already beat him to it."
'Cemetery Boys' by Aiden Thomas has been one of my most highly anticipated releases of the year and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. I'm still feeling a little raw from reading it..
Following the path of a trans boy named Yadriel, the story centers around his determination to prove his status as a brujo to his traditional Latinx family as he struggles with the inherent prejudices both inside and outside their community.
Wielding ancient magic gifted to them by their goddess, Lady Death, those who carry her gift are able to see spirits. Women have the power to heal bodies and souls, while men can release lost spirits into the afterlife, but as a trans boy.. Yadriel has never been able to heal like the brujas.. and the leader of the brujx has never allowed him to prove he can fulfill the role of a brujo.
Having been prevented from going through his quinces, Yadriel and his best friend Maritza take it upon themselves to see his opportunity come to fruition. When his cousin dies suddenly, Yadriel's focus on proving himself becomes laser-sharp.
"You don't need anyone's permission to be you, Yads..."
When the spirit he summons turns out not to be his cousin, but rather the resident bad boy.. Julian Diaz, things grow even more complicated. Julian isn't interested in passing quietly into the afterlife. He's intent on discovering what happened to him and taking care of some things before he leaves.. and with Yadriel unable to force him, the two make a deal to help each other.
Much of the mythos here is born of a mixture of Aztec and Mayan legend that makes up the more recent Mexican-American folk Catholicism.. such as Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess and queen of the underworld, also known as Santa Muerte (Saint Death or Holy Death).. la Niña Blanca (the White Girl).. la Huesuda (the Bony Lady).. la Flaquita (the Skinny Lady).. and many other names.
The magic origins are built largely from the stories of Xibalba (roughly translated as Place of Fright or Place of Fear), which is prominient in both early cultures.. though Bahlam, the Jaguar god and one of the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh (though there are three translations of this text so it varies slightly), is born of Mayan sources who were said to have defeated the Lords of the Underworld (Xibalba) who had tricked and killed their father and uncle, also twins. Here though, Bahlam is no benevolent being.. and it is conflict between him and Lady Death that actually begins the story of the generations of brujx.
"Yeah, but I think you're kinda into it..."
Obviously, the story is full of mystique and the tales from which portions of it are created only make it more interesting.. if that's possible. I've always been entranced by myths of gods and goddesses from all cultures and of the pantheons, the Aztec and Mayan remain amongst my favorites.
It's impossible not to feel for Yadriel, not to want to shout at those who make things unnecessarily difficult for him.. and not to warm to Maritza for being that ride or die chick by his side. The best friend who will fight the world for him, who wants to see him succeed maybe even more than he does.. even if she has a moral aversion to aspects of the lifestyle for herself.
Thomas did a fantastic job of painting Julian as an obnoxious, stubborn spirit with a wicked temper, all the while managing to offer us peeks of those parts of himself he preferred to keep hidden. If I'm being honest, Luca broke my heart more than anyone.. but there's a lot of beauty and a lot of pain sprinkled deftly throughout this bewitching debut novel with all the skill of an old hand.
I caught myself laughing and couldn't stop myself from crying. It's emotional and lovely.. and everything I could have hoped for...